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A Secret Worth Killing For Simon Berthon ‘A stunning debut novel…It could not be more timely.’ – Gavin EslerSomebody knows where the bodies are buried…Newly-appointed Minister of State Anne-Marie Gallagher appears to have an unblemished record. Only she knows the truth. In the early 1990s, she was embroiled in the IRA’s violent past, and integral to a mission which went disastrously wrong.So far, skeletons have remained in their closets. But, unknown to Anne-Marie, DCI Jon Carne has just received an anonymous tip-off. The co-ordinates lead Carne to a body – badly decomposed after twenty-five years underground.When news of the discovery reaches Westminster, Anne-Marie knows that she is at risk of being exposed. And with Carne closing in, there’s not much time for the new minister to decide how far she’ll go to keep her past where it belongs…Power comes at a price in this sharp, smart political thriller – perfect for fans of Charles Cumming and Mick Herron.‘A stunning debut novel from a top TV producer, A Secret Worth Killing For takes us from the back streets of Belfast during the Troubles to power and parliament in London. It could not be more timely.’ – Gavin EslerPreviously published as Woman of State A Secret Worth Killing For Simon Berthon Copyright (#ulink_85886ce5-68e6-5b2c-bb04-14a3cd5e0bf5) An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF First published in Great Britain by HQ in 2017 Copyright © Simon Berthon 2017 Simon Berthon asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Ebook Edition © July 2017 ISBN: 9780008214388 Version: 2018-02-06 As a journalist, historian and documentary maker, SIMON BERTHON has long been fascinated by the secrecies, deceits and ambitions of the state. His previous books are Allies at War and Warlords (with Joanna Potts). A Secret Worth Killing For is his first novel. For Penelope, and for Helena and Olivia Contents Cover (#ub633ffe6-f8f8-5e1c-a6c6-56a8f06e3fa4) Title (#u9586d245-a455-51cd-a54f-f301e666a8d0) Copyright (#ulink_1a257612-2705-5afb-9d44-a853bd9f77c6) About the Author (#u353afa41-77a8-56ae-956f-dbf574964756) Dedication (#ue9d88975-a19b-5439-b376-adde65b25953) CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_074ac322-9792-5426-adb7-de6c69ada544) CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_90f678c4-84d8-5029-bc46-e793cc9dab10) CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_c90041f6-648a-591c-930f-213bdc3146c4) CHAPTER 4 (#ulink_89d2d596-d89c-588c-ae16-cf3a2a18cdf1) CHAPTER 5 (#ulink_a984c5f1-b4bf-55f1-bf8f-5657dd24bc56) CHAPTER 6 (#ulink_f3085439-751b-5140-a5b5-ac7f6c9ccca3) CHAPTER 7 (#ulink_01d2da84-fa7f-52a7-bf51-3ee3bdbda10b) CHAPTER 8 (#ulink_9058ad59-78e5-531c-a02f-e861c4490fa5) CHAPTER 9 (#ulink_eb696f72-0a36-5d57-95f3-7b0c075b13d3) CHAPTER 10 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 11 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 12 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 13 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 14 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 15 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 16 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 17 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 18 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 19 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 20 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 21 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 22 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 23 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 24 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 25 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 26 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 27 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 28 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 29 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 30 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 31 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 32 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 33 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 34 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 35 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 36 (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 37 (#litres_trial_promo) Acknowledgements (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_638be387-5bdf-55f5-b933-f96f795e0e5b) July 1991 ‘The movement needs your help.’ She’s lying next to him in Falls Park, the summer of 1991. A-levels are over, the sun shines, university beckons. A scholarship at Trinity College, Dublin, is in the offing and, in the case of clever Maire Anne McCartney, the teachers are confident. ‘Whaddya mean, Joseph?’ she asks, propping herself on an elbow and looking down into his eyes. ‘You’re committed, aren’t you,’ he says. It’s a statement – a confirmation – not a question. ‘Course,’ she replies. ‘Politically, anyway. Freedom, equality.’ ‘Politics won’t get us there. It’s the struggle that matters.’ ‘I’d never stand in your way, Joseph, you know that. It’s just not the way for me.’ She leans down and gives him a peck on the forehead. The brightness of the day illuminates him, the chiselled chin, full lips, straight nose, the sparkle in his azure eyes. She expects him to put his arms round her, pull her on to him and roll in the grass till they laugh themselves to a halt. Last night they made love three times; she can still feel him inside her. He turns away, avoiding her. She detects a tightening in his eyes, a clenching of the cheeks she’s never quite seen before. ‘You know I love you, don’t you, Maire?’ ‘Course I do. And I love you too, Joseph. Don’t I always say it?’ ‘You do. But just this once I need you too,’ he says, turning back to her. ‘I mean the movement needs you.’ A quiver of alarm. ‘I dunno what you mean.’ He shifts away again. ‘You better tell me,’ she urges. His eyes swivel and engage hers with a ferocious intensity. ‘There’s a Brit peeler over here – name of Halliburton – Special Branch. On some kind of loan. We’ve been tracking him. He gets lonely at night, drinks in the Europa, eyes up the bar girls. But doesn’t follow through. Around eleven, he’s in his car, heading back to Castlereagh. They’re either housing him in the station or somewhere near; we’re not sure. We wanna speak with him.’ ‘Speak with him, Joseph? Whaddya mean, speak with him?’ ‘Interrogate him. Find out what he’s doing. Get some intelligence.’ ‘And then what? When you’ve interrogated him.’ ‘Just scare him. Let him know we’re onto him. Suggest it’s time he leaves.’ ‘What’d be the point of that?’ ‘Propaganda. How we ran a Brit SB man out of our island. It’ll read well.’ ‘And that’s all?’ ‘Aye, that’s all.’ She rolls over and sits up straight – he raises himself alongside her. ‘Does Martin know ’bout this?’ she asks. ‘Course he knows.’ ‘And ’bout you speaking to me.’ ‘He would, wouldn’t he? But it couldn’t come from him, could it? Not brother to sister. Wouldn’t be right.’ ‘But he knows.’ ‘Well, he would.’ She stands up, the warmth of the sun heating her back through her light-red jumper. It’s not enough in itself to create the sweat that’s prickling her. He springs up and ranges alongside. ‘We just need you to attract him. Your quick wits, quick tongue, it’ll be easy. Just a chat-up in the bar, you’re a student wanting a free drink. You take him to a flat. We got one ready in the university area.’ He outlines the plan. All she’s doing is picking up a bloke over a drink. Happens every night, hundreds of times over. She’s listening hard – he cranks it up. ‘Look, Maire, there are moments when you can’t just stand by and look on. Be a passive observer. At some point, everyone has to do their bit. Look at the leadership now, the politicians. Do you think all they ever did was talk?’ ‘I’ve just finished A-levels, Joseph.’ Her first instinct is to repel him but right now, at this moment, she doesn’t want to show weakness that could invite his disapproval. ‘Aye, you’ve done well. But you’re eighteen now, grown up. An adult. You’ve responsibilities.’ ‘What about responsibilities to myself?’ ‘That’s just selfishness. It’s not just the struggle, it’s your friends, your family, your community.’ She halts abruptly. Divis mountain ahead, so often a dour, brooding darkness, seems almost radiant, a mass of green light. ‘I’ve never got involved in that way.’ ‘Aye, but this isn’t like that.’ ‘You promise me it’s just to interrogate him?’ ‘Aye.’ ‘No violence. No beating. Just propaganda. Just to show you can do it.’ ‘Aye.’ ‘I need to hear you promise me, Joseph.’ ‘That’s fine. I promise.’ ‘You give me your word.’ ‘Aye.’ ‘And Martin approves?’ ‘Aye, he would, that’s for sure. No doubt ’bout that.’ She thinks in silence. She remembers the hunger strikers dying when she’s still a girl and the hatred for the British oppressor. Three years later, she shares her big brother’s pleasure when the IRA blows up Mrs Thatcher’s hotel in Brighton. She knows the cause is just but, for her, school, good results, getting to university become the priority. The British state is still hateful, but her belief in the ‘armed struggle’ deflates like a slow puncture. Yet Joseph has touched a nerve, a lightning rod brushed by lingering guilt. Maybe he’s right and she’s been selfish. She copped out when others didn’t. If what they’re planning is for propaganda, not violence, perhaps it’s just another act of cowardice to keep on avoiding it. She flicks a glance at him. What if he’s lying? Just talking shite? When did they last let a peeler walk free? She looks away. He’s never lied to her before. Not that she knows, anyway. Momentarily, a cloud obscures the sun, turning the mountainside an unyielding brown. He’s saying nothing, the quiet oppresses her. Time seems to freeze – the flapping of a bird’s wing high above reduced to the slowest of motions. His expression has retreated to that beautiful poet’s dolefulness when she’s about to disappoint him. Like those early months after the first full kiss when she wouldn’t go the whole way. Until she did. If she says no to this plea – a plea he’s made with such passion – will he ever forgive her? Might she even lose him? She thinks of asking – but doesn’t want to hear his answer. She turns. It’s visceral – she just can’t displease him. ‘OK, I’ll do it. Just this once. For you.’ It’s as if the words have tumbled out of her mouth before she even made a decision. A sudden consolation – maybe she’ll still be able to get out of it. She chides herself for even thinking it. Her rational self re-engages. ‘And there’ll be no violence?’ ‘Yes, there’ll be no violence.’ She’s told her mother she’ll be in for tea that evening. Rosa has cooked cottage pie and peas, one of Maire’s favourite dishes. She plays with her food, even forgetting to splash it with ketchup, and speaks little. ‘What’s up with you, Maire?’ asks Rosa. ‘Aye, girl, you need to eat,’ chips in her father. Rosa casts him a warning glare to keep out of it. ‘Sorry, Mum,’ she says. ‘Just not feeling hungry. Dunno why.’ Rosa, who’s come to realize that Maire must be sleeping regularly with Joseph, betrays a sudden alarm. ‘Not feeling sick, are you, love?’ Maire looks up with a wan smile. ‘It’s OK, Mum, I’m not feeling sick.’ ‘Well that’s all right, then, love.’ At any other time, Maire would hug her mother out of sheer love for her maternal priorities. On this evening she feels only emptiness in the pit of her stomach. As they’re clearing plates, the front door clangs opens and Martin breezes in, bestowing smiles and kisses all round. Maire suddenly wonders what her parents think of him; whether they even know his prominence in the movement. Politics in general are sometimes discussed at home, but the rights and wrongs of violence are no-go. It’s only, and infrequently, mentioned when she’s alone with her brother. They must suspect – they’d be blind not to – but have decided it’s best to keep out. ‘Hey, little sister, you’re looking gorgeous as ever,’ Martin declares, not a care in the world. Maire attempts a show of response but recoils. Surely he must know about Joseph’s conversation with her today and her acquiescence. She wonders at his bravado, and the masking of his double life as happy-go-lucky son and IRA commander. He notices her listlessness. ‘What’s up, kid?’ How can he even contemplate such a question? She searches for a hint. ‘It’s nothing,’ she says, ‘just a chat I was having with Joseph.’ ‘So how’s the world’s greatest revolutionary doing?’ There’s an edge of condescension in her brother’s tone. Again she flinches at his duplicitousness. ‘Full of schemes, as always,’ she replies. ‘Aye, that he is,’ says Martin. ‘That he certainly is.’ He’s giving her nothing. Literally nothing. No comfort, no support, not a hint of empathy. Perhaps that’s the way it has to be. They decide to try it the next Saturday night. More people milling, more cover, guards more likely to be down. She prepares. She’s cut her hair, taking three inches off the long auburn tresses, and used straighteners to remove the waves and curls. Instead of the hint of side parting, she brushes the hairs straight back, revealing the fullness of her face and half-moon of her forehead. She examines the slight kink in her small, roman-shaped nose. As always, she dislikes it. She applies mauve mascara and brighter, thicker lipstick to her cupid lips. She wears a black leather skirt, above the knee but not blatantly short, and a bright-pink, buttoned blouse that doesn’t quite meet it in the middle. The gap exposes a minuscule fold of belly. She pinches the flesh angrily. Through the blouse, a skimpy black lace-patterned bra, exposing the top of her firm small breasts, is visible. The overall effect is not a disguise, just a redesign. While it doesn’t make her look cheap or a tart, she’s unmistakably a girl out for a good time. She’s steeled herself, told herself it’s just a job. Clock on, clock off three hours later. Thoughts of how to pull out have besieged her every minute since she said yes – even though she instantly knew she couldn’t. But once she’s done it, that’ll be it. Never again. She’s kidding herself. Once you’re in, they’ve a hold over you – you’re complicit. She thinks of her brother – did he recruit Joseph? How did they get their hold over him? She remembers that tightness in his face. Did they ever need to? She arrives just after 8.30 p.m. As agreed, she finds a bar table with two chairs, sits down and appears to be waiting for her date to arrive. A waiter comes – she orders a vodka and Coke. He’s already there, sitting at the bar. The description, both of him and his clothing, is accurate. Late thirties, sandy hair retreating at the sides, a ten pence sized bald spot on top covered by straggles of hair that offer an easy mark of recognition from the rear. On the way in, she’s been able to catch more; the beginnings of a potbelly edging over fawn-belted, light-brown trousers. Brown loafers and light coloured socks, dark-brown leather jacket. Perhaps the brown is an off-duty discard of the policeman’s blue. On his upper lip, a pale, neatly trimmed moustache. Brown-rimmed, narrow spectacles sitting on the bridge of a hook nose. Somewhat incongruously, pale blue eyes. From those first glimpses, he seems a nicer-looking man than she expected. A relief, given one part of the task that lies ahead. But ugliness becomes a victim more easily. They say he usually drinks one or two before chatting up the bar girls and waitresses. Around 9.15, when she’s been waiting three-quarters of an hour for her elusive date to arrive, she walks towards the bar. She places herself beside him. ‘Another vodka and Coke,’ she demands, louder than necessary. He turns to her with a raise of the eyebrows. ‘Bastard hasn’t shown,’ she says, glaring at him as if to say, ‘Whaddya want?’ ‘He’s a fool.’ He eyes her with frank admiration. The accent is English, south not north. A confirmation. ‘I’m the eejit,’ she says. Her drink arrives and she makes to return to her seat. ‘You might as well stay and chat till he comes. I’ll pull that stool over.’ She hesitates. It seems too easy. What’s this man really like? From nowhere she imagines him hitting her. Where did that come from? Nerves, just nerves. Her heartbeat is racing. She gathers herself. ‘I left my coat at the table.’ ‘It’s OK, I’ll keep an eye on it.’ He chuckles. ‘I’m good at that.’ His remark startles her. She hopes she’s not shown it. ‘So who’s the missing boyfriend?’ he continues. ‘Ex-boyfriend. Bastard,’ she repeats. Is she overdoing it? She senses how miscast she is for this performance. She’s a quiet student who should be buried in her books. Some even say she’s gawky. Suddenly she sees that’s maybe why Joseph’s picked her. The copper will never suspect. He shrugs and sips from his glass. Scotch and ice, must have been at least a double. ‘Men,’ he says. ‘Can’t trust them. Just like criminals and politicians. No wonder they’re usually men, too.’ ‘Thatcher?’ she says. ‘Thought you girls said she was a man, too. Anyway, they got rid of her. Assassins all men.’ She makes herself laugh. He raises his glass; she raises hers and clinks. ‘Cheers,’ they chime together, grinning at each other. ‘Bet they were glad round here when she was dumped,’ he says. ‘Aye, they banged the dustbin lids.’ He pauses for another sip. ‘Sorry, should have introduced myself. Name’s Peter.’ The final confirmation. ‘Annie.’ Unless he’s lying, like her. ‘So whose side are you on, Annie?’ ‘My side. Fuck ’em all.’ He frowns. ‘Sorry, I should mind my tongue.’ She sticks it out at him like a rude child. What came over her to do that? The job’s become an act, two more hours on stage before the curtain falls. His grin widens. ‘I like your tongue. Agree with it, too.’ He’s flirting hard now. Another pause. She doesn’t want to seem like she’s making the running. Eventually, he resumes. ‘OK, I’ll try another tack. What do you do, Annie?’ ‘Studying. Queen’s. Just finished first year. I’d like to travel but I don’t have money.’ ‘Can’t you get a job?’ ‘A job here! In Belfast! You find me one.’ A further silence. This time she feels safe to have her turn. ‘And youse?’ The hesitation is just perceptible. ‘My company’s sent me over for four months. We’re investigating setting up an office. The grants are good.’ ‘Whaddya do?’ He’s thinking. ‘Financial advice. Investment. All that stuff.’ ‘So you’re rich!’ ‘That’ll be the day.’ He peers down at his glass. She feels sweat on her neck and between her breasts. She moves her right hand to her left wrist to check her pulse. He notices. ‘Are you OK?’ ‘Yeah, just the heat.’ She smiles. She can’t take the tension much longer, not knowing if he’ll bite. Maybe he’s sussed something – but he hasn’t come with his own prepared story, she’s sure of that. She needs her moment of truth right now. She looks at her watch, finishes her drink and finds the line to close Act One. ‘Bastard still hasn’t shown,’ she says angrily. ‘Suppose I’d better be heading.’ His head jerks up and round. ‘Don’t do that, I’ll buy you another.’ He’s bitten. She inspects him, to make him feel he’s undergoing an examination, to ratchet up his gratitude if she accepts. ‘I probably shouldn’t,’ she says. ‘I dunno you, do I?’ ‘I’m harmless as a butterfly.’ His eyes plead with her. He’s on the hook. ‘OK, then, might as well get pissed. Nothing else to do, is there?’ ‘You’re the local,’ he says. ‘I was hoping you might have something in mind.’ It’s his first openly suggestive remark and it’s taken time. He’s a cautious man, but now he orders a double vodka and Coke for her, and a double Scotch for himself. They drink and chitchat, nothing personal or controversial, but a mutual hunger in the eyes. Occasionally she flashes a look around the room. ‘Just in case the bastard’s skulking,’ she tells him. In a corner of the bar she spies a man she’s seen with Joseph once or twice. He’s always peeled off as soon as she arrives, back into his undergrowth. But not tonight. The exit door is jammed shut. Just before 10.30, an alarm sounds, abrupt and deafening. A voice booms over the Tannoy. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have a bomb scare. Please evacuate the building now.’ The warning words are repeated every five seconds. They’re on cue. ‘I’ll grab my coat,’ she says. ‘I’ll wait for you,’ he replies. They walk out into Great Victoria Street to join the hundreds retreating behind the barricades. Bomb warnings are no longer scary – the age of nightly explosions and shootings has long gone. Now it’s a meaner war. Individual murder, assassinations, suspected informers tortured and ending up with a bullet through the knees or head. A few weeks ago three IRA men were ambushed on a country lane and shot dead by the SAS. That had to come from a grass. She remembers it – no wonder Joseph, her brother and friends want an intelligence propaganda victory. Maybe what she’s doing is OK. She sets off south and he sticks to her limpet-like. Once they reach the other side of the yellow tapes, they stop to catch their breath. Sirens and shouts echo, nothing more. ‘Bastards,’ he says, ‘why did they have to break that up? I was enjoying myself.’ ‘Me too,’ she agrees. ‘Fucking eejits.’ She pauses. ‘Well, I suppose this is it, my flat’s not far. Better be away.’ She’s nearing the end of the second Act – moment of truth number two. She looks at him. ‘And you should be, too,’ she says cheekily. ‘We shouldn’t let them get away with it,’ he says. ‘Busting up the evening like that.’ He takes a breath and exhales into the night air. ‘Can I get you another drink?’ ‘Reckon I’ve had plenty,’ she says. ‘Coffee, then?’ he pleads. ‘Honest, I should be heading.’ ‘OK, coffee in your flat. And then I go home.’ She laughs at him. ‘You don’t give up, do you?’ ‘You make it hard to,’ he says. ‘OK, coffee in the flat.’ Hook, line and sinker. She pounces, giving him a quick kiss on the lips. She feels him relax with pleasure and anticipation as they head towards Botanic and he puts his arm round her. Act Three is about to begin. They’ve taken a short lease on a first-floor student flat in a street of Victorian terraces. She’s been driven past it once – she wanted a second look but they said it was too risky. There’s a Yale lock above and a mortice below – they’ve told her the mortice will be left unlocked to make it easier for her. They should be in position by now. While she and the man walk, she tries not to search for their car and them waiting inside. The street lamp is opposite the front door, illuminating the house number. She unlocks the Yale and pushes the door open. ‘Don’t you double-lock?’ he says. He’s drunk plenty but he’s still a policeman. ‘No petty crime in this town,’ she replies without a beat. She thanks heaven her brain’s quick enough to disarm him. She switches on the stair light and leads him up. With the university on holiday, both the ground- and upper-floor flats are empty. At the top of the landing, she slots a second key into a bare wooden door and ushers him in. She’s learnt the floor plan, memorizing rooms, doors, furniture, cupboard contents, electrical appliances. They’d better have got it right. She’d better have remembered it right. ‘Sorry, it’s a bit dire,’ she says. ‘My flatmates are away for the vac but I didn’t wanna be trapped at home with my ma and da.’ She pauses, feigning embarrassment. ‘It means I’m sort of camping in the bedroom.’ She nods towards the room at the back. ‘TV’s there if you want. I’ll make coffee. Oh, bathroom’s there.’ ‘Thanks,’ he says. ‘I could do with it.’ She puts on the kettle. When it begins whistling, she creeps to the front door and peers out. They’re there. She puts the palms of both hands to the window, fingers and thumbs splayed out. Ten minutes. Ten minutes till the play ends and the job’s done. She wants it over. She’s back in the kitchen just as he pulls the plug. She hears sounds of hand washing and face scrubbing. He’s preparing, cleaning himself for her. More washing sounds. She imagines him taking out his penis and soaping it in the basin. The nerves have been there all night. Now there’s a charge of fear. He leaves the bathroom, turns into the narrow passage and stops by her in the kitchen. She’s pouring coffee into cups. He comes behind her and puts his arms round her, moving down to the roll of her waist and round to her buttocks. She leans back against him. ‘Look what I found,’ she says. She picks up the dusty, half-drunk bottle of Teacher’s that’s been placed beside the coffee and tea jars. ‘Scotch, not Irish,’ he leers, ‘must be my lucky night. She puts her left hand behind her, pats his buttock, then moves it around past his crotch. He’s erect. She can feel the evening’s drinks rising in her throat. ‘You carry the Scotch and glasses,’ she orders. They retreat to the bedroom and she waits to see where he puts himself. He takes off his shoes; she follows suit. There’s a double bed and double duvet, but cushions on one side only. ‘Here looks comfortable,’ he says, stretching out on the bed. ‘And I can see the telly.’ ‘Is that what you’ve come for?’ she asks, flashing her most alluring smile. ‘And the coffee.’ She pours two cups and brings him one. Then she pours Scotch into a tumbler and places it beside him. He puts his arms around her to draw her towards him. ‘Not yet.’ This is the moment she knows might come but can never fully prepare for. Joseph has suggested what to do if it gets this far – he says he knows what a man really likes. And it will incapacitate him, protecting her and making it easier for the boys after she’s left. She doesn’t even want to think about that. Again she tells herself it’s just a play – and she’s just this evening’s performer. She forces herself. ‘Close your eyes,’ she whispers in his ear. She walks round to the front of the bed and strokes him from the toes up. Through ankles, calves, knees, hamstrings, fingers moving up to the front of the waist. There they stop, unbuckle the belt, and slowly slide down the zip fastener. His eyes remain closed, though he’s breathing faster and emitting soft murmurs. She pulls his trousers from beneath him and slips his pants down. The pants’ elastic waist reaches down to his tip – as it passes over, he bursts out and upright, swollen to a size she hasn’t seen on Joseph. ‘My word,’ she gasps. He opens his eyes, looks beyond his chest and stomach at her mouth level with the engorged tip. She gives it a short touch. He murmurs again. She feels burning in her throat. She mustn’t retch. ‘I just need to go the bathroom,’ she says, ‘make myself ready.’ ‘I can’t wait,’ he whispers. ‘Course you can wait. Willpower. I wanna make it fun.’ ‘Oh, sweet Jesus,’ he sighs. She closes the bedroom door behind her, goes to the bathroom and runs a tap. She re-emerges and creeps towards the front window. With her left hand she forms a zero with her thumb and forefinger and holds it against the glass. With her right hand she waves inwards. She re-enters the bathroom, stops the tap and pulls the flush. Both the flush itself and the refill are inefficiently noisy, an unexpected bonus. Against their background sounds, she edges on her toes to the flat’s entrance, praying no floorboard creaks, and descends the stairs to the front door. As she opens it, they allow her to leave before they enter. Four of them, masked. She has a pang of sadness for the man she’s left behind and the ordeal he faces, then walks, increasing her pace with each step. The pavement is dry and smooth. It’s just as well as she’s been unable to retrieve her shoes. Joseph and his friends will tidy up. At least she’s wearing stockings. She hurries past Botanic station, and over the roundabout into Great Victoria Street. Ahead the barricades are still up and no one is being allowed near the Europa. She stops; the fire in her throat rises. She runs to some railings, leans over, and retches. A tiny stream of bile, nothing more. It’s not nerves – or guilt – that’s brought it up, just the memory of touching him. She straightens, skirts the crowd, turning right, then left towards the city centre. It’s still only 11.30 p.m., a single, eternal hour since they left the bar. Now she can lose herself in the late-night revellers and make her way to the black taxis heading for Andersonstown. A girl who’s had too good a night out and somehow managed to lose her shoes in the process. Her heartbeat quietens. They may have made her complicit but, should they ever try again, she knows she won’t do it, whatever the consequences. It may be their life, it’s not going to be hers. The curtain falls. It’s over. CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_1dfbd69f-c6e5-5017-8eb6-96ca0a475a83) The next day, Sunday, she stays at home in her room. ‘Coming to Mass, Maire?’ her mother yells up. She peers down from the landing and addresses the bottom of the stairs. ‘Sorry, Ma, still a bit off colour. You and Da go on.’ She wonders why they persist. She spends the day in her room with the local radio on. All is quiet and she feels an overwhelming relief. By evening she decides she’s calm enough to appear for tea. She comes downstairs, where her father’s watching the six o’clock television news in the living room. ‘Jeez, Maire, have a look at this.’ The screen shows the taped-off street, and the flashing lamps of police cars and an ambulance beyond. Nausea rises, this time from her midriff. She’s missed the newsreader’s introduction and a local reporter is taking up the story. ‘It seems the male victim was lured to this flat off Botanic Avenue and then set upon by attackers waiting inside. It appears that some sort of fight may have broken out, during which the man was shot dead. It’s not known at this point who the victim was or whether the attack was a purely criminal one or had a political or paramilitary connection.’ ‘What the hell was going on there?’ Stephen exclaims. The news gives way to the Sunday sporting action and he buries himself in the newspaper. Another day, another shooting. She wants to retreat to her room but forces herself to stay with her da until the end of the weather forecast. She looks into the kitchen. The smells of cooking repel her. ‘Sorry, Ma, still off the food. Must be a bug or something I ate.’ Rosa watches as she goes back up the stairs. Something unusual is going on with her daughter but she knows better than to press. It will all come out in due course, or just go away. Maire wants to go out, to run for miles, to lose herself in exhaustion. Anything to stop thoughts. But the summer nights are short and she’s afraid of the daylight. By 10 p.m. she can stand it no longer and leaves the house without a goodbye or see you later. ‘Must be something to do with Joseph,’ Rosa mutters to Stephen. She paces the streets for an hour, taking deep breaths, willing herself to restore the calm she’s now lost. Did they, or rather Joseph, deceive her and always intend to kill? Perhaps the policeman was carrying a gun – though, if he was, he kept it well hidden – and managed to grab it as they entered. But she heard no shots as she walked away. It surely means they must have taken control of him. Joseph gave her his word. He used the word ‘promise’. Was it a lie? Or was he lied to? She has a horrible vision of her brother as the mastermind. Surely that can’t be. More than betrayal, what she now feels is a sickening combination of terror and her own foolishness – the knowledge that she allowed herself to be deceived. She clings on to the hope that something went wrong in the flat – that he brought his death upon himself. That, in some sense, he deserved it. She wonders who will miss him and tries to banish the thought. Without planning it, she finds herself near Joseph’s street – he still lives with his family and they’ve used a friend’s place to sleep together. Unable to stop herself, she approaches the house. At the last minute she delays, watching for movement through any gaps in the curtains. She sees none, but some ground-floor lights are still on and she rings the bell. Joseph’s mother answers. ‘Maire, you’re looking in late.’ ‘Sorry, Mrs Kennedy.’ ‘It’s OK, love, come in.’ ‘I was just looking for Joseph.’ ‘Haven’t seen him today, love. You know how it is with him. Always in and out.’ ‘OK, Mrs Kennedy, never mind. Thanks anyway. I’d better be away.’ The next day is worse. Silence. Alone. She’s been hung out to dry. She tells herself again that this is what it must be like. Despite the falseness she feels ever surer of, she craves to see Joseph. Perhaps he really does have an explanation and it can still be all right between them. She listens out for Martin’s footsteps and one of his cheery entrances into the house. It doesn’t matter what’s said, she simply needs someone who knows to talk to. At lunchtime, the noose tightens. ‘The victim was Inspector Peter Halliburton, who was on secondment to local police from London’s Metropolitan Police Special Branch. Mr Halliburton, aged thirty-six, was married and had two children of six and eight. There has still been no claim of responsibility for his killing,’ announces the radio news. She thinks of him lying on the bed, his zip undone, his penis bared, a young man, husband, father, in the dying moments of his short life. She tries to justify it. He shouldn’t have come with her. He betrayed his marriage and those children. He was a representative of the occupying forces. The words and excuses taste of sulphur. Her one good fortune is that on Monday both her parents are out and she can stay in her room without need for explanations. In the late afternoon, shortly before her mother is due home, she goes out, propelled once again by some automatic, subconscious navigation in the direction of Joseph’s home. She steels herself to ring the bell. No answer. She knocks on the door. No answer. She backs away to look up at the first floor. The curtains in Joseph’s room are drawn. Either he’s still away or deliberately avoiding her. The question jumps at her. Could they have arrested him? Are they holding him, forcing him to implicate her? Surely his mother would have known. Surely Joseph is too smart. Early the next morning, 5.45, it happens. A violent beating on the front door, the sound of her father descending the stairs to answer it. She peeps behind a curtain of her bedroom window to see two armed police jeeps to the right and left and a police saloon, its roof light silently revolving. She hardly has time to take it in before two uniformed police enter her room with neither words nor knocking. ‘Get dressed,’ says one. The second speaks more formally. ‘Maire McCartney?’ ‘Yes.’ She tells herself to resist the tears. ‘I have a warrant to arrest you on a charge of conspiracy to murder Peter Halliburton on the night of Saturday the twenty-third of July. You have the right to stay silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law . . .’ Even as she dresses herself, and they pull her hands in front of her to apply handcuffs, it’s as if it were happening to another person. It belongs to a parallel universe. The person she really is could never have degraded herself to this. The walk down the stairs and out of the front door freezes her into self-loathing. Her mother and father watch, their eyes aflame with humiliation. She’s unable to speak, only to shake her head. Once inside the police car, she lacerates herself for being too weak to leave them words of hope. They take her to Castlereagh, a journey that is a badge of honour for anger-fuelled young men, a spiral into blackness for her. How do they know it was she? They must have soon worked out that the victim had been lured. Were her shoes still in the room, showing that a woman took him there? Could Joseph and friends have been so careless? Did they suspect Joseph and make the connection to her? Perhaps they’re just operating on that hunch and have no hard evidence. She slumps in a cell for hours, allowed only to brush her teeth and visit the toilet. She’s escorted to a bleak room where a woman in a white coat takes her fingerprints and a swab from her throat. She’s brought food but her sense of time begins to fade. All she knows is that, when she’s taken to an interview room, occasional shafts of light show that it is not yet night. Two men in suits arrive, a recording machine is switched on. They introduce themselves but she doesn’t catch their names. Again, she feels distant and disconnected. Her real self is floating on the ceiling above, looking disdainfully at the grotesque spectacle beneath. ‘We know you were with him,’ they say. ‘I’ve nothing to say,’ she says. It’s all she says that evening, again and again. At least Joseph told her to do that if anything went wrong. ‘Your brother’s a Provo, your boyfriend’s a Provo. You were with him in that bedroom. You leave, a few minutes later he’s shot dead by a gang of your friends. You’re going down, Maire. You’ve ruined your life, your career, dishonoured your ma and da. Think about it as the long night passes.’ As they foresaw, darkness brings change. The unreality, the distancing recedes. She’s in a black tunnel with no light at the end. She knows she must not allow desperation to block her thoughts, but it’s hard to not keep seeing the puzzled, frightened expressions of her ma and da as she was led away. The hopes they had for her, the trust in their golden girl – all blown apart. Whatever happens now, there will always be a before and an after in her life. She needs a life raft, a narrative that gives her a chance of survival. She tries to peer into that night from the other end of a telescope. To live it from his point of view. To imagine that he’s not a foolish man, but a bad man. Or a man made bad by alcohol and opportunity. She doesn’t like forcing her mind to work it through – but this is no time to be nice. The next morning, she asks for a solicitor. They tell her all in good time. She tries to insist on her rights, they ignore her. Perhaps her request accelerates their reappearance for she’s back in the interview room within twenty minutes of making it. Their tone has hardened. ‘You’ve no way out, Maire,’ says the first man. ‘Your fingerprints are all over the room,’ says the second. ‘Christ, there’s even your saliva in his pubic hair.’ ‘You filthy little slut, Maire. You really want that to come up in court? You want your ma and da to hear you were sucking the dick of some poor bastard you were setting up to be shot?’ She’s ready for them. ‘You’ve nothing. Sure I was with him. Sure he “picked me up”. Not me, him. Sure he insisted on coming home with me. But he was drunk, became violent. He was trying to rape me, so I ran. What the hell would you have done?’ ‘Just at the very moment your good friend Joseph and his mates happen to arrive to murder him. What a coincidence, Maire. What a fluke of timing.’ ‘I dunno anything ’bout that. You’ve no evidence to say that. I was in a bar, he picked me up. I was fool enough to go with him.’ Even if she’s not kidding herself, maybe she can somehow dent their certainty. She forces on, trying to convey confidence not desperation. ‘That’s my only crime. Maybe there was some eejits following him. So what? Nothing to do with me. He’s a bad man who tried to attack me. Look at the size of me – what chance would I have had? Now I wanna solicitor.’ ‘You can have a solicitor, Maire. Won’t do you any good. There’s only one way out. You tell us everything you know about Joseph Kennedy and his friends – it’s OK, it’ll just be between youse and us, no one else’ll ever know – and maybe we’ll cut you some slack.’ ‘It’s your life, Maire. Your future. Think about it,’ says the second man. They leave the room and she is escorted back to her cell, the barred door clanging shut behind her, the bare walls closing in on her life. Later that day, she sees a solicitor and offers the same account she’s given her interrogators. They were right; the solicitor tells her the evidence, the coincidence of timing are stacked against her. The rape allegation gives her a chance, but only a small one. She’s come up with it late and there’s not even any bruising. Maire knows only one thing for certain. It looks like they don’t have anything on Joseph. If she grasses – tells them Joseph did it – and his friends find out, she’s dead. There’s no greater sin than to turn informer. Not even Martin could save her – probably wouldn’t even want to. The story always has the same ending. A lonely grave in some anonymous damp patch of field. The next day, another spell in the interview room, this time with her solicitor present. Her interrogators arrive together and say nothing. Instead they produce a pair of shoes from a bag, the shoes she wore on the night, and hand them to her. ‘We’ve cleaned them for you, Maire,’ says one. ‘You can have them back after the trial if your prison governor allows it.’ ‘Careless of your friends to leave them behind,’ says the other. They walk out with a mocking grin. ‘Might be best to own up, Maire,’ says the solicitor later. ‘Say you knew nothing about the plan to kill him. We’d go for aiding and abetting an abduction. You might get away with five years. You’d only serve half.’ Her third night in the cell is the worst. All exits are closed and it seems a one-way street to conviction and branding as a criminal. If she confesses, the full dirtiness of what she’s done need not be revealed. Her ma and da can be spared that shame. After more than two decades of the ‘war’, her community will understand her getting caught up in it. Though what a pity, they’ll say, that clever little Maire McCartney, with the whole world at her fingertips, chose to spoil everything. What if there’s not even that deal without their piece of flesh? Everything she knows about Joseph. The names of his friends. She feels a shiver of terror. By the night’s end, she’s come to one conclusion. She’s not a committed warrior willing to spend a lifetime in prison for the ‘cause’. She doesn’t know where it will lead – but it’s time to negotiate and see what cards she’s got left to play. A woman police officer arrives with breakfast. ‘I’ve been thinking,’ says Maire. ‘I wanna speak to my solicitor.’ ‘That won’t be necessary,’ says the woman. ‘Whaddya mean? I’ve made a decision. I need to see her.’ ‘No, you don’t. You’re leaving.’ ‘What?’ ‘I said you’re leaving. Seems like you’re a lucky girl.’ ‘You joking? That’s bad taste . . .’ ‘It’s not a joke, Maire. Pack your things, your da’s coming to fetch you.’ An hour later she finds herself walking past the front desk and out to the car park. It’s a journey of utter unreality. Maybe it’s some kind of trap. But there, in the flesh, is her da. Stephen has been allowed through the gates and security barriers and is waiting. As she nears the car, he gets out and hugs her. They drive in silence, no questions asked, no answers given. When they arrive home, it’s the same, her mother waiting quietly for her. ‘Welcome home, love.’ It’s all she says. That evening, Martin comes for tea, the entrance as nonchalant as ever, the chitchat light and jokey. In front of her parents, no reference is made to the last three days. As they’re clearing the plates, she catches Martin nodding at them. They retreat to the kitchen to wash up. He closes the door behind them. ‘You’ll get your scholarship at Trinity, you’re that smart,’ he begins. ‘Working-class Catholic girl from the North – just what they need to move with the times. But you’ll leave this city and head down to Dublin now. I got friends who’ll put you up till we find you something permanent. Only a couple of months now. Maybe you can take some time abroad. I’ll see if I can raise some money.’ ‘Did you know, Martin?’ she asks. ‘Know what?’ He sounds sharp, hard even. It’s unlike him. ‘Joseph said you approved it. I mean using me.’ He shakes his head slowly, closing his eyes and rubbing them with his hands. ‘Jesus, Maire, you should know me better. I’m not even going to discuss that.’ ‘Well, he said you would.’ ‘He said that?’ ‘Yes.’ Her brother says nothing. ‘And the plan itself? Seducing him? Shooting him?’ ‘Don’t go there. It’s past now.’ ‘Joseph told me it was just to interrogate him.’ ‘Fuck’s sake, Maire, you’re not that naïve.’ She wants to cry but mustn’t let herself. ‘I believed him, Martin. He promised. He said it was propaganda. To show they could run a Special Branch man out of town.’ ‘He said that?’ ‘Yes. Several times over.’ ‘OK.’ He shakes his head and looks away from her. ‘Look here, Maire, I’m not going to piss on Joseph. He’s important in the movement. You can’t expect me to do that.’ ‘I wanna see him. Ask him myself.’ ‘That won’t be possible.’ His eyes pierce her in that way she knows he won’t be contradicted. She looks down, silent. ‘You’re not to see him again, Maire. There’s to be no contact ever again. From you or from him.’ She feels tears welling and tries to suppress them. There’s no point in arguing. Instead she asks the obvious question. ‘Why did they let me go?’ ‘You’re small fry, they’ve bigger fish. Maybe they didn’t have enough on you. Maybe they wanna see where you’ll lead them. Use you as bait against your own side. That’s why you gotta leave. That’s a reason you can never see Joseph again.’ He pauses. ‘Not the only one, mind.’ She feels herself crushed. ‘And there’s another thing, Maire. Some will say they only let you go ’cos you grassed. Another reason you gotta go.’ ‘Jesus, Martin, you should know me better than that.’ She grimaces. ‘Christ, that’s what you just said, isn’t it?’ He doesn’t answer – there’s nothing more to say. Her destiny, for now, is out of her hands. ‘OK, when?’ ‘Tomorrow.’ ‘Tomorrow!’ ‘That’s right. You better start packing.’ Her brother grasps her shoulders and speaks with a searing passion. ‘You were never meant for this, Maire. You’re the lawyer. Maybe politics one day. You’re the ballot, not the bullet. Never forget that.’ The next morning, her father drives her to Victoria Bus Station to catch the express coach to Dublin. She’s been given an address and fifty pounds. She’s never felt so alone. A few days later, Martin visits her in Dublin. It’s been arranged that she’ll live with a Mrs Bridget Ryan, whose daughter, Bernadette, is serving time for possessing explosives. As a contribution to her board and lodging, Maire will help look after Bernadette’s three children. The husband’s no good – he was once in the movement but forced out because of his drinking. The arrangement will last the full three years of Maire’s degree. ‘You can call it your prison if you want,’ says Martin, ‘but it’ll give you a better chance than the real thing. Now, you, work hard. Don’t socialize. Don’t look for friends. No boyfriends. Trust no one. Get your degree. And then get the fuck out of this island and make something of your life.’ As she watches him disappear, Maire begins to understand the worst of what she’s done. It’s not about being used, or luring a Brit peeler to his death, or shaming her parents, or losing Joseph. It’s that she made an error. A huge, life-changing, potentially life-destroying error. If she’s managed to get away with it, if she’s been given a second chance, she promises herself one thing. She will never again make such an error. Not ever. CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_54ad6f4f-6821-5ed5-987e-e7f6a23afa84) Twenty-six years later, UK General Election night, Friday, 5 May. 2.41 a.m. ‘I, the Acting Returning Officer for the constituency of Lambeth West, hereby give notice that the total number of votes given for each candidate was as follows . . .’ Anne-Marie Gallagher squinted down at an army of flashlights, TV cameras and microphones. The next five minutes would shape the next five years of her life. Yet, until one day and one conversation three months before, what now lay before her would have seemed unreachable. ‘They’re imploding,’ cried out her head of chambers, Kieron Carnegie, flicking through the newspapers. ‘Those smug idiots are imploding. Split from top to bottom.’ ‘There there, Kieron, we don’t want you imploding too.’ She spoke with a hint of Celtic tinge too polished to place. He rounded on her. ‘But it’s our chance. This time, even after the last mess, we might actually get back into office.’ She observed him fondly – still, in his early sixties, a craggily attractive man with a rich voice and greying blond hair hanging down to his collar. He had a reputation as a Lothario of the law but had never tried it on with her. From the day she joined Audax, her body language had said no to affairs. For his part, Carnegie still saw the smart, pretty, petite twenty-three-year-old with the quick brain and spiky wit who had brightened his office the moment she’d stepped into it twenty-two years earlier. The same straight, dark-brown hair that settled in a bob above the join of her neck and shoulders. The same fringe falling over her forehead like wisps of fresh grass. The elegant little nose. The small mouth and curve of her lips. The tiny gap between the whiteness of her front two teeth. The same aura of untouchability. ‘I have an idea.’ ‘Oh?’ She went on instant alert; Carnegie’s ideas could be dangerous. ‘I never personally wanted to enter politics.’ ‘You’ve always cultivated the party’s leaders.’ ‘Me cultivate the leaders?’ His eyebrows jumped in horror. ‘Sorry, Kieron.’ She grinned. ‘They cultivated you.’ ‘I’d never have hacked it as a Member of Parliament. Don’t have the discipline.’ He paused. ‘You do.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘I only joined the party a couple of years ago.’ ‘I know. But you’re getting noticed. Appearances on Newsnight and Today, pieces in the Guardian. The go-to lawyer for comment on human rights.’ ‘It’s nothing more than a sideshow to my work here,’ she protested. ‘Listen,’ he said, pointing at the headlines yelling disarray at Westminster, ‘there’s no solution to this but an early election.’ ‘So?’ she interrupted. ‘There’s going to be a vacancy in Lambeth West.’ ‘What do you mean? Harry Davies is the candidate there.’ ‘Not for much longer. Few know it but he’s had a stroke. The medics have told him he’s got to take it easy.’ ‘So?’ she repeated. ‘You live there. You’re attractive and articulate. You have a rising profile. Put your bonnet in the ring, my dear.’ He launched his most extravagant smile. ‘And I will do a little moving and shaking in the background.’ For once, she did not return the smile. She felt a stirring, an echo of youthful ambition that had seemed irretrievable. ‘If I were to do this, I’d enter the goldfish bowl. The media would scrutinize me, try to rake over my past, exercise their bloodlust.’ ‘Are you afraid of that?’ For a woman so quick on her feet, it took a split second longer than usual to find a response. ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,’ she quoted. ‘Franklin Delano Roosevelt, inauguration speech, March 1933.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then that’s your answer, isn’t it?’ Carnegie’s forecast was accurate. The government moved from bickering to in-fighting to self-destruction. No alternative could be formed to command a majority. The only way out was an immediate General Election. There was a vacancy at Lambeth West. Anne-Marie cross-examined herself, both present and past. Since her reinvention after Dublin and entry into a different world, she had not come face to face with anyone who remembered her. Standing as an MP would expose her but, in a national election, an unknown first-timer would attract only local attention. In any case, there had been no shame in adopting her new life. The circumstances could even win her sympathy. Which left the two jeopardies. The knowledge of the dead and disappeared had vanished with them. The chance of any credible, living witness emerging this many years later was too remote to stand in her way. She could not always hide from risk. ‘OK,’ she told Carnegie. ‘I’ll give it a go. But don’t you forget it’s your fault.’ The first hurdle was the panel to select a shortlist of candidates. The males were easy meat but then came the formidable Margaret Wykeham, the well-bred chair of a progressive school to which she would never have sent her own children. ‘Ms Gallagher, your grasp of the issues is formidable,’ she began. ‘But perhaps we could know a little more about you.’ ‘Yes, of course.’ Anne-Marie was prepared for it. ‘After university, where I graduated with first-class honours, I joined Audax Chambers. There, over the years, I have been lucky enough to form firm friendships and eventually to oversee the expansion of its human rights practice.’ ‘You were at university in Dublin?’ ‘Yes, that is correct.’ ‘And, before that, one has rather little sense of your background. Your family, for example.’ ‘Mrs Wykeham,’ stated Anne-Marie with cool deliberation, staring at the emerald brooch pinned on the bosom of her interrogator’s cashmere sweater, ‘this election is not about whether I was born with a silver spoon or a poor mother’s saliva-wetted finger in my mouth. I am a self-made woman. I am happy to discuss my professional life, even happier to discuss the problems that confront our country. But the condition of my candidature is that I will not speak in public beyond those.’ The die cast, she fired a defiant stare at the panel. After a silence interrupted only by the rumble of a passing train, grins began to spread across the faces opposite, including Margaret Wykeham’s. At an open meeting three weeks later, constituency party members selected her as their candidate with an overall majority on the first ballot. During these weeks Anne-Marie came to wonder at her gift for artifice. She felt a sheen of hardness beginning to cloak her like a sleek, well-tailored suit. What surprised her, once she had entered the fight, was her will to win. ‘Jonathan Alfred Ashby, Conservative, 24,317,’ continued the acting returning officer. The sitting MP maintained a rictus smile below bulging eyes. ‘Brian Hugh Butler, Liberal Democrat, 2,318.’ The forlorn loser failed to disguise a murderous intent towards his one-time partner in government. ‘Joy Freedom, Hen Party “Backing Genuinely Free Range”, 141.’ A figure buried inside a giant yellow chicken costume did a hop. ‘Anne-Marie Gallagher, 25,779.’ An eruption of shrieks, youthful OmiGods, cheers and whistles exploded through the hall. ‘And I declare that Anne-Marie Gallagher has been duly elected Member of Parliament for Lambeth West.’ Amid the racket, the outlandishness of the moment seized her. The cheers went silent; she was confronted by a mass of mute, mouthing faces. There was something unreal about it. She had a déjà vu of another moment of unreality in her previous life; it chilled her like a blast of arctic wind. Catching herself, she moved along the row of beaten rivals, shook hands – a pat on the beak for the hen – exchanged false congratulations on a campaign well fought, and approached the microphone. ‘There are so many people to thank, particularly the acting Returning Officer and his most efficient staff.’ She spoke with crystal purity, realizing that any delay in this traditional act of courtesy would show an unwise contempt for election-night protocol. ‘But before I give other thanks,’ she continued, ‘and while this hall commands its brief moment of attention, there is something I want to say.’ She paused, her smile yielding to a cool intent. Right up until the last minute, she had not been sure of what she might say. Now, in this crucible of democratic fervour, hundreds of eyes bearing up at her, TV cameras trained on her, an unexpected sense of destiny tugged. Perhaps Kieron Carnegie had been right. Perhaps this was her time, her chance at last to cash in years of slog in the mire of law chambers and courts, and the frustrations of committee rooms and thwarted campaigns. Heeding the instant, her audience ceased its cheering. An expectation created by her magnetic fragility reduced the hall to a hush. ‘Are human rights a joke?’ She fired the question like a crossbow bolt, puzzled faces beneath straining to understand its target. ‘Sometimes you might think so. We read stories of voting rights for child rapists. Refugees granted asylum to look after their cat. Such stories are always distorted, if not invented. But what they betray is an attitude. Human rights are a nuisance. Or silly. Or something foreigners deploy to take advantage of us. ‘Such a state of mind makes us an ungenerous nation. We give the impression of wanting to send asylum seekers into danger, not welcome them to safety. To keep families separated, not united. To make ourselves less civilized, not more. ‘But what ultimately prevents us from so demeaning ourselves is law. The laws that enshrine human rights. I want to tell you on this extraordinary night that I have stood in this election for the lawful human rights of every individual in this nation. And of those who with just cause seek refuge in it.’ There were stirrings not just on the floor below her. A few minutes earlier, the party leader and his entourage had swept into Festival Hall, commandeered for a mass gathering of the ranks. Pummelled by jostlers and backslappers, they paused to watch the Lambeth West declaration, knowing that victory there would surely see them into Downing Street. After the announcement of the result, they made to move on but were halted by the remarkable speech of their winning candidate. For a moment Anne-Marie thought of stopping there. But, almost despite herself, the words flowed on, an undercurrent of payback throbbing within her. ‘No human right has been more trampled,’ she resumed, ‘than the right to live our lawful lives unobserved in the privacy of our homes, our meeting places, with our friends, with our families. ‘Under the cloak of fear, of exaggerated threats from terrorists and other convenient enemies, technology – and a lust for control – has created the surveillance state. ‘I condemn that state.’ She could hear the collective gasp around her. A single cough reverberated like a gunshot. In Festival Hall, the volume dropped again and the now Prime Minister in waiting watched on. In a few still-lit rooms in Whitehall, in two fortress buildings by the Thames, and on comfortable sofas in commuter belts, a network of men, and a few women, were taking note of this upstart lawyer just turned MP. ‘There must be no more snooping on the lives of tens of millions of innocent people by NSA, GCHQ, CIA, MI5, MI6 or any other sets of initials and numbers the faceless, unaccountable watchers choose to hide behind. ‘There must be no more dirty tricks, extraordinary renditions, unexplained disappearances. ‘Every citizen of this country is entitled to a life that is private, unviolated, and free. ‘I make you a promise. I will work to dismantle the surveillance state. Nothing will deter me from keeping that pledge.’ For a few seconds, the Lambeth West election revellers remained stunned in a frozen silence. Then came the first ripples of applause, followed by waves of cheering and chanting. At Festival Hall, normal service was resumed, though raised eyebrows were exchanged amid mutterings of, ‘Did you see that?’ Social media buzzed. The speech began to trend on Twitter; party workers posted it on Facebook and ‘likes’ mounted in their thousands. Anne-Marie had hit a nerve. But, as well as in the secretive recesses of Whitehall, other nerves were less favourably struck. Long-in-the-tooth politicians noted the rashness of her words. Patriotic support of the ‘vital work’ of the security services was a mantra – particularly if you wanted your own secrets to stay buried. One senior member of her party amused himself by wondering what skeletons might lurk in pretty little Anne-Marie Gallagher’s cupboard. Having stepped down from the platform, Anne-Marie found Margaret Wykeham alongside her, leaning in for a hug. ‘Your speech was wonderful. But take care.’ They locked eyes, two women in a stadium where the gladiators were still largely male. ‘Get some rest. It’s allowed, you know.’ It was past 3 a.m. Small groups were setting off to join the Festival Hall throng, beckoning her to come with them. She realized that all she wanted was to be rid of them, to find silence to take in what had happened to her. She waved happily, leaning the side of her face against joined hands to indicate sleep. While other newly elected MPs and defeated candidates retired to their homes with loving wives, husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends, she left the arena alone. Melting into the night air and walking briskly to expel the fustiness of the crowd and the clamour, she cut through the side streets of low Victorian terraces towards the river, stopping occasionally to listen for pursuing steps. The further she walked, the more the sense of unreality took hold. Within half an hour she was entering her apartment block, one of five modernist buildings its architect called ‘pavilions’ overhanging the Thames – just one element in the massive new city within a city housing fifty thousand people. A new embassy row. A new haven for rich oligarchs when the going back home got rough. Thousands of pods of secluded anonymity. Her shield. She took the lift to the eleventh floor and entered the flat she had reserved two years before. Then, she had analysed the model in the sales suite and lined up the view she wanted. Now that imagined outlook lay before her in spectacular reality. It never ceased to take her breath away. She flicked on the television. Nearly 4 a.m. Counting had stopped for the night but her party was certain of an overall majority. She undressed, scrubbed her face and teeth, and changed into the comfort of her pyjamas. She walked to the swathe of glass revealing London and the river. To the right the Millennium Wheel was still alight and revolving on this long election night, catching its celebrating stragglers. Sweeping left came the tower of the House of Lords, the ugliness of Millbank, then, peeping through a tiny gap in the forest of concrete and brick, the face of Big Ben. She stared at these icons of the British state, the alien fortress she would soon inhabit. Below, apart from one lonely tug crawling slowly upstream, water gleamed emptily. A few cars flowed along the Embankment opposite, then an ambulance flashing its light. Their motion was silent and ghostly, deadened by the thickly insulated glass. She looked down on the river below and then right as the towpath resumed its curl towards Vauxhall. There she saw the figure. Stooping, long coat, dark brimmer hat concealing his forehead and upper face. He – it was a man for sure – lifted a cigarette pinched between thumb and forefinger to his lips, puffed, and exhaled smoke that streaked into the night. He turned his head up and towards the window she was watching from. She caught a glimmer of chin and lip. There seemed something familiar about their contours. She felt she saw him start, as if he had seen an apparition. He threw the cigarette onto the path, turned on his heel, and shuffled away. It was his back view as he left, the brimmer raked at a hint of an angle over his neck, strands of hair falling beneath that made her shudder. A wraith dissolving into the blackness. The moment passed and she told herself to snap out of it. The transformative events of the past hours must have dislocated her. She repeated her calculation: any man with any interest in tracking her down these many years on was dead or disappeared. Cold logic dictated imaginings of coincidences. CHAPTER 4 (#ulink_b13e963d-77c2-54a3-adb5-634b2dbd4ae3) Post-election, Saturday, 6 May The rutted lane snaked up the hillside and emerged into a broad flank of heather-dotted fields forming a shallow ascent to a flat summit. Grey drizzle cast a familiar gloom over Irish border country, a sullen response to the excitement at Westminster. Peering through the monotonous beat of his windscreen wipers, Detective Chief Inspector Jon Carne felt he was disappearing into a primordial soup. Finally he could make out the working party a couple of fields away. He turned right through a gate and pulled up beside a four-by-four in the gaudy gold of the province’s Police Service, its roof light flashing like an irrelevant lighthouse in a deserted sea of washed-out green. Stakes were being driven into the ground and a wire fence assembled. He watched the mallet head swish down like an executioner’s blade. The point of wood below broke smoothly into the soft squelch of earth. Inside the fence a temporary tarpaulin was being erected over the excavation site. A sergeant stood guard. ‘SOCO’s inside, sir,’ he said. Carne crossed the fence boundary and approached the area where the tarpaulin was rising. ‘Morning, sir,’ said the scene-of-crime officer. ‘Morning,’ replied Carne. ‘So how and why?’ ‘We got a call on the confidential line last night. Couldn’t do anything till first light.’ ‘Credentials?’ ‘He gave a password. It was a genuine one, operating in the early ’90s.’ ‘When did they stop using it?’ ‘1995, sir.’ ‘Go on.’ ‘His coordinates are spot on. The description of the field and where to dig, too. We found a few remains on the surface. Animal disturbance. We’ve done a preliminary dig. Skull’s well preserved. Fair bit of clothing.’ ‘He didn’t say who or exactly when.’ ‘Just you’ll find an unlucky young man. That was it, sir.’ Carne looked down at the muddled remnants so far revealed. Fragments of what may have been dark-blue jeans, the rubber soles of shoes, the jacket oddly intact, the macabre shape of head. He imagined the different endgames. A simple execution of a known enemy – or an assassination – just a bullet in the head. More likely, the last hours of a tout. Kicks and punches, cigarette burns, electrodes, hammers on kneecaps, scalpels on skin, two bullets in the head. What must it be like to be the parent of whoever who had become this set of bones and rotted clothes? An offspring who disappeared, never to return. Would they have had any idea – or suspicions? Were they ever told? ‘We’re sorry to have to inform you, Mr and Mrs . . .’ Carne tried to imagine the platitudes of a ghastly conversation. If he and Alice had been able to have children, they would have come into this world at the time this young man was leaving it. They would now be the age his short life was extinguished. What might they have become? But no child had arrived. And as the years passed, her memory receded into a different, long-gone life whose future had died along with her. ‘Pathologist’s on the way, sir.’ The scene-of-crime officer shook him from his distraction. ‘Who’s on call? ‘Riordan, sir.’ ‘Good.’ He looked again at the skull. ‘I don’t care how long he’s been there. Any tiny trace, we want it.’ Carne’s bleakness conveyed little optimism. ‘And no talking. No media, no publicity. You tell this lot, make sure they get it. I’ll instruct the press office. I don’t want anyone out there scurrying for cover.’ He retreated from the covering canvas into the drizzle still driving across the rolling fields. A few mournful sheep, huddled against stone walls, munched disconsolately, occasionally raising their heads at the unfamiliar activity. This was a place where nothing ever happened. A battered-looking Ford Fiesta splashed through the gate, halting with a skid of the front wheels. Out of it jumped a chubby woman with bouncing blonde hair, a pert snub nose and hint of double chin, accompanied by a male colleague. For the first time that morning a galvanizing beam illuminated Carne’s face. He removed his cap, transforming the policeman’s dourness to reveal a handsome, dark-haired man belying his forty-seven years. Working with Amy Riordan, in his eyes the single argument for the state pathology service, was guaranteed to cheer him up. He briskly greeted her. ‘OK, make my life easy. Tell me who did it, why, when, and how.’ ‘Sure. I thought you wanted something difficult.’ She gave him an amiable punch in the ribs, headed up to the grave, laid out her evidence bags and carefully pulled on inner nitrile gloves and latex covers. She knelt beside the remains, spreading her weight to avoid disturbing the mud walls, and gingerly stretched down one hand. One by one, she removed shreds of clothing, passing them to her assistant to place in individual bags and mark. The work tensed her, beads of sweat forming around her mouth. After ten minutes of concentrated foraging, she came up for air and stood gazing at the skull. ‘So, early 1990s,’ said Riordan. ‘Yes, the password he used dates him.’ ‘That fits. Twenty, twenty-five years.’ She shrugged. ‘Give or take a few. Looks like he had a bashing around the face. Signs of bullet damage in the skull. Doesn’t seem much on the other bones that are bared.’ ‘Will we get anything?’ asked Carne. ‘Possibly,’ she replied. ‘The jacket’s synthetic, so it’s pretty intact. Might be something on it, or inside it. Jeans were denim, natural fibre, so not much left. But you never know. I don’t want to poke around the shirt fibres yet. He had a plastic belt. It’s slipped down his thighs. That’s probably the result of the corpse swelling, forcing his lower clothing down below the waist.’ ‘Is that common?’ ‘Reasonably, though it’s not widely studied. It can sometimes be interpreted as an indicator of sexual interaction with the victim. But actually, during decomposition this kind of abdominal bloating is frequent. Then, as the flesh and organs continue to decompose, it leaves this curious-looking position of the belt.’ As so often when watching and listening to Amy, Carne felt goose pimples of pride both at her manual dexterity and expert knowledge. ‘Mind you,’ she continued, ‘I might get something on sex. Saliva, semen, DNA. Maybe what type too if you’re dead lucky. Gay or straight, mouth or tongue.’ ‘Let’s turn it into a musical,’ Carne chimed in. ‘Sure, you write the tunes, I’ll do the words.’ She gave him her full-on, inquisitorial stare. ‘Now you tell me something, Jonny Carne. What in the name of God, the Devil and all creatures in between is this young man doing lying in this grave in this field in this desolate part of this island of poets, artists and balladeers with bullet holes in his head?’ ‘You tell me, Amy Riordan. Tout? Caught on the wrong side?’ ‘Unlucky in love?’ she chipped in. ‘We need a name.’ Carne tensed. ‘We will investigate and we will find out what happened to him. Doesn’t matter who he is, or what company he kept. Or where it leads. Or who gets embarrassed. Or who ends up in a dock.’ ‘That’s why I love you.’ She approached him, gave him a kiss on the cheek and put her arm round him. They enjoyed the trust of a relationship where physical contact could not impinge. Amy made no secret of her sexuality and Carne felt revulsion at older men salivating after women half their age. Instead he almost saw her as his consolation – the daughter he had never had. He could feel a prickle in his eye; perhaps it was the life lost in the grave, the loneliness of the unpeopled hills, or the memory of loss. He needed to leave this place. ‘Over to you,’ he said. ‘Just find me a smoking gun.’ Instead of driving north to join the motorway, Carne turned east. He could not yet face the desultoriness of the weekend office and its few occupants counting up their overtime. He wanted air, space, and time. He headed towards his favourite sight: the sculpted shapes of the Mourne Mountains rising stealthily from the sea to form their elevated pattern, even on as grey a day as this. He drew up to the vantage point he had made his own, switched off the engine and sat as still as the mountains in front of him – a hiding place where memory could not be disturbed. There was something about the interdependence of each summit that made every peak play its part in a communal enterprise of nature, a harmony that never failed to restore his inner peace. They seemed to be saying temporary matters, lives, people will come and go – but we will always be here watching the absurdities of your brief lives. Perhaps they would be saying that about the loss of just one life more than twenty years ago. But then it struck him, unprompted by the word itself, that they would instead be mourning; and that, like each peak, all life was mutually dependent. To dismiss one was to dismiss all. Whatever the aloneness of his own life, he would not write off another human being for the sake of convenience. Enough poetic melancholy. A young man had not walked into a muddy grave in an isolated field to lie down for a rest: someone, more than one person, had buried him. This many years on, he knew there’d be pressure to let it lie – politics, amnesties, leave the Troubles behind. But, to him, a killing was a killing, wherever and why ever it happened. The rest was mealy-mouthed excuse-making. He would never allow himself to compromise with murder. Carne switched on the engine, accelerated hard and turned north. There was one man he needed to talk to. He pushed the number for Castlereagh switchboard and engaged the hands-free set. ‘Detective Sergeant Poots, please,’ he demanded. Carne tapped his thumb impatiently on the steering wheel as he cruised through the rolling hills of South Down. Thirty seconds later, the familiar gruff voice was on the line. ‘Yes, boss.’ ‘Billy, your great age is finally going to come in useful. Early- ’90s disappearances – I want the almanac.’ ‘Christ, I thought we’d left all that behind.’ ‘To the contrary. We have a new body in a field without a name.’ ‘Ah, a ghost is coming alive.’ ‘Ghosts indeed,’ said Carne. ‘That’s your department, Billy. Let’s get resurrecting him.’ CHAPTER 5 (#ulink_c2461494-071c-53b9-aea7-8829fa6d38cb) October 1993 It’s the same boy who was in the library two days ago, the one she gawped at, the one she’d never seen before. Only this time he’s got there first and taken her seat. Maire wonders if it’s coincidental or deliberate, then chides herself for being so soft. He’s probably not given her a thought. Nor should she give him one. That’s not what she’s here for, and not what she’s spent the last two years for. This is the final year – the year she will propel herself on the future that will transport her from home, family, place, class. From the past. It’s the year she’ll get away. For twenty-six months – she counts them – she’s stuck by the rules she agreed with her brother and devoted herself like a nun. No distractions, no entanglements, head down. No staring. But two days ago it was impossible to avoid the curl of brown hair falling so silkily on his collar, seeming to surface from nowhere. She’s buried in the close print of an American court’s judgement not to return an IRA killer of a British soldier because it’s a political act. It excites her. Law is not just dry argument or sterile litigation: it can bring political change, too. She relaxes to let the moment of revelation sink in. Her eyes settle idly, unintended, twelve feet away on the other side of the study table and somehow lock onto him. He sits ramrod straight, head forced downwards with an awkward angularity, glued to the thickly bound volume on the rectangular oak slab, a statue of concentration. She reckons he’s in his mid-twenties, glinting brown hair falling in soft waves over his ears and neck – and that one curl in particular. His pencil is held tight between his teeth – good, white teeth. She can see part of one leg encased in weathered blue jeans crossed over the other. He still has a black leather jacket on – it outlines broad shoulders and a flat stomach. He reads on. She stares longer than she means before rebuking herself and forcing her eyes back to her book. He never looks up – not that she notices, anyway. Thank God! Now he’s back. She’s suddenly conscious of the beads of sweat on her flushed cheeks, invisible to others, a torrent to her. Outside it’s a balmy autumn’s day, the early mist clearing, the sun breaking through. As she skirted the river on her twenty-five-minute walk to the library, warmth seemed to rise even from the water itself, the trees alongside glowing islets of deep ochre. Right now, the perspiration is an embarrassment, which only seems to feed the sweat. She’s hung her overcoat on the hooks outside. Within the overheated library, she raises her arm to remove her jumper. It sticks to her T-shirt, raising it above the waist of her jeans. She quickly pats down the shirt to cover herself. The jumper removed, she shakes her hair – and uses the movement as a cover to cast him the quickest of looks. Where to sit? She can’t go too near him and places her books at the opposite end of the table. But, if she raises her eyes, she will be forced to look inwards, unable to escape him as there is nothing beyond except the unbreachable wood panelling of the library walls. She sits down. His eyes seem held by an invisible glue to the thickly bound legal volume. After a few minutes, she glimpses him running his hand through his hair and furrowing his brow. She feels him straining to understand the complexities he’s buried in. She trains her own eyes to her book. A vibration in the table hints at his repeating the action. Twice. Each time, she holds her face down. Then, a furtive glance. Like two days before, he doesn’t respond. As if he hasn’t even seen her. The minutes pass, she sticks in a frozen immobility. She takes a deep breath and lets out a sigh. No reaction. She feels her concentration wavering – unusual for her. She restrains herself for what must be a full hour, but then can’t help a peep at him. She senses him lifting his chin and turning towards her. It’s a tracer bullet, stunning her into dropping her head. Flopping from the executioner’s blow. Her cheeks burn – she must be colouring like a strawberry. Shortly after midday, she closes her volume, restores it to a shelf and makes to go. She turns her back and has an instinct he’s watching her. She doesn’t look round to check. She half hopes he is. Avoiding, as always, the library canteen, she heads outside, up Dawson Street to her regular sandwich bar in a lane just off to the right. Arriving there, she tells herself to catch on. Routine is restored. She orders her usual toasted cheese-andtomato sandwich with a pack of crisps, which she sits on a stool beside a long Formica shelf to eat. She will then get a coffee and head out for a quick breath of air and her one piece of shopping before returning to the library. She is unusually hungry as she licks stray strands of melted cheese from her chubby fingers and off her light-red, varnished nails. He’s coming through the door. ‘Hey!’ he exclaims. She tells herself not to jump or shriek, but the sound of her heart beating drowns the words they exchange. ‘Oh, hi.’ ‘I didn’t know you used this place,’ he says. She must stay cool. ‘I was gonna say the same to you.’ ‘Ah well.’ He turns back, orders his own sandwich, then looks round at her again. ‘Fancy a coffee?’ ‘I gotta go to the chemist. Then head back.’ ‘Can it wait?’ She frowns. ‘Tell you what,’ he continues, ‘I’ll cancel my sandwich. Let me get the coffees and I’ll walk with you.’ ‘OK.’ The word seems to have auto-popped out – he’s already ordering the coffees and she’s suddenly walking down the street beside him. ‘You’re a Brit!’ It’s almost a shriek – she can’t help herself. ‘Does it matter?’ he asks innocently. ‘Does it matter? Christ!’ She pauses. He shrugs his shoulders, as if to convey that it’s nothing to do with him. ‘Course it doesn’t fucking matter,’ she says. ‘Why would anyone think that?’ He feels an idiot. ‘Sorry, I—’ ‘But you’re a bit of a posh Brit,’ she interrupts. ‘Whaddya gonna do ’bout that, then?’ She’s putting on the full accent and idiom of the working-class girl from the North. She doesn’t know why. But transcending both is the restored timbre of her voice. Pure and unfiltered, the clarity of mountain water. ‘I’ll take lessons,’ he replies. ‘Hope you’re a fast learner.’ His apparent discomfiture makes her laugh. She finds herself behaving skittishly, pricking him with tiny taunts and conveying nothing of the blast of pleasure she’s feeling. Why can’t she be herself? He doesn’t seem to mind and, almost quaintly, stretches out his right hand with a theatrical show of formality and introduces himself. ‘David.’ And then, hesitantly, his surname. ‘David Vallely.’ Shaking the hand with a mocking delicacy, she responds with her own introduction. ‘Maire McCartney.’ ‘Moira. Nice name,’ he says, mispronouncing it. ‘I thought it was Scottish.’ She corrects him. ‘You say it like this. More-a. OK? Spelt M-A-I-R-E.’ ‘Sorry, I never heard it.’ ‘That’s OK. It’s common enough here.’ ‘So Dublin, then,’ he says, happy now to place her. ‘Wrong city. I got away.’ There’s a sharpness that brings silence. She thinks about his name. An English boy called David Vallely. A nice ring to it – Irish origin somewhere down the line. It occurs to her, now she thinks about it, that it’s great he’s a Brit. There may be plenty of those at Trinity but in her world he’s a stranger, an outsider. Someone with no connection to home. They walk down the lane and turn left into Grafton Street, past the statue of Molly Malone and her cart, erected five years before and still too unblemished. ‘I wouldn’t say she’s pretty enough for Dublin’s fair city,’ he says. ‘Not just posh, but sexist too, eh?’ The accusation comes with exaggerated alarm. ‘Just an aesthetic judgement,’ he tries to assure her. ‘Course she’s not pretty. She was a street hawker and tart in an eighteenth-century, shite, British colonial town. Whaddya expect?’ She flares her nostrils at him. They have reached the chemist and she turns in while he waits on the pavement. She feels embarrassed – although it’s only cream she’s been prescribed for a couple of spots bugging her. What’s he thinking she’s in there for? When she walks out of the chemist the thumping has quietened and she wills herself to scrap the artifice. No need either to give him the big smile she’s suppressing, no need to encourage. ‘It’s such a great day,’ he says. ‘Yes,’ she replies absently. ‘How about a stroll?’ She hesitates, then raises an eyebrow as if to say ‘give over’. He waits silently, a plea in his eye. ‘I shouldn’t,’ she says. ‘Time to get back to the library.’ ‘It’s not a prison.’ ‘OK, just this once.’ Her face at last breaks into a hint of a smile. ‘Great.’ He’s the cat with the cream. They end up in St Stephen’s Green on a bench. He raises his polystyrene cup. ‘Cheers.’ She smiles and raises hers too. ‘So,’ he continues, ‘you must be doing law.’ ‘Yeah. Third year, finals coming up. I work all day and night. No distractions.’ She wants to make it harder for him. ‘And I gotta finish my dissertation.’ ‘What’s it on?’ ‘It’s kinda on postwar evolution in international law. I’m mainly focusing on extradition treaties.’ ‘That’s amazing,’ he exclaims. ‘The thesis for my master’s—’ ‘You’re doing a master’s?’ she interrupts. ‘That’s why I never saw you in the first two years.’ ‘That’s right,’ he continues. ‘But here’s the thing – my specialism is the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Maybe I can help you.’ ‘Or maybe I can help you,’ she retorts smartly. They beam with shared pleasure at their common interest. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if every day was like this?’ she suddenly says. ‘Look at it, leaves turning but still golden, sun shining, heat in the air. Fuck’s sake, this is Dublin in autumn.’ ‘I know,’ he says. ‘There’s something unreal about it, isn’t there?’ He looks at his watch and cries out, ‘Hell, the time! I’ll be late for my supervisor.’ ‘I should get back to work, too.’ They walk back to the library together. As they part, he says, ‘It was great to talk. Maybe we can do it again next week?’ She’s suddenly deflated but tries not to show it. ‘I’d say a drink tonight but there’s a friend I promised to see.’ He pauses. ‘And then I’m away for the weekend.’ ‘Course you are, posh boy.’ She states it flatly. ‘Anyway, I forgot, Film Soc’s showing Battle of Algiers. Been meaning to see it since I was born.’ She hopes her recovery is swift enough to let him know they’re parting on equal terms. ‘Long live the revolution, then.’ He smiles and turns in the direction of the Law Faculty. Did he spot her tug of disappointment when he said he was away for the weekend? Not that she’d have been able to spare him more than an hour or two. Mrs Ryan’s staying overnight in Limerick, so away for both the Saturday and Sunday, and she’s got the kids full-on – not a weekend to look forward to. Why did she blurt out Film Soc showing Battle of Algiers? No chance of escaping to see that. Maybe Blockbuster will have a VHS. If not, she should be able to find a review of it somewhere to clue herself up. What will he be doing? As they part at the library, she watches him until he disappears through an arch. His broad shoulders taper down to slim hips and long, floating legs. She feels she’s never seen such a perfect man’s body. The unreality of it all strikes her again with renewed force. As the slow weekend drags on she keeps seeing his disappearing backside. It’s both a distraction and an irritant in the life she’s made herself endure. She knows the kids well enough by now but keeping them fed and entertained on the single note Mrs Ryan left is wearying. Kevin’s got a match for the under-elevens, which Roisin’s still young enough to be cajoled to watch. Brian is contemptuous of his younger brother’s sporting prowess and refuses to come, staying at home to play on his Atari. She tries to josh him into getting some fresh air but finally gives up. On their return, they pass him on a street corner slouching with his ‘gang’. She suspects he’s been smoking and hopes it’s nothing worse. It’s only a few minutes to the badlands of Sheriff Street and the kids start too early these days. She suspects there’s too much in him of what of she’s heard about his absentee father. She manages to find a couple of hours on Saturday evening to work. Her eyes soon tire. She tries to resist slumping in front of the TV. She couldn’t get a VHS of Battle of Algiers but the student mag has a preview of it, which should give her enough to get by. She thinks of students thronging in bars, laughter, kisses, falling over drunk, falling into bed. The thought makes her sit up straight, wipe her eyes, stand up and open the front door to breathe the street air, and return to her book. Sunday morning has Mass to fill the time and Brian isn’t yet bold enough to duck out. She dutifully accompanies the children to the altar rail to receive Communion – just a blessing for Roisin, who’s doing confirmation class this year – and senses a stroking of her hand from Father Gerry as he lays the wafer in her palm. She jerks her head up at him with a flinch of fury, but he’s gone. He’s youngish, mid-thirties, she guesses, the trendy priest of the Dublin badlands. Couldn’t be a better match for it. The church is well stocked with young couples trailing toddlers and babies who add their music of chirping and screeching. They leave her as cold as the church itself and the dirty priests that preside over it. Not so Roisin. On the walk home, holding Maire’s hand, she’s sufficiently emboldened to ask a question that has obviously been nagging her. ‘Why don’t you have a boyfriend, Maire?’ ‘How d’you know I don’t?’ she replies with a teasing smile. ‘Well, he never comes to see you.’ ‘Well there you are, then, you can’t believe what you don’t see.’ The nonsensical double negative flummoxes Roisin into silence. Mrs Ryan returns around six. She looks exhausted, her face etched with thin brushstrokes of worry. Or maybe it’s the cigarettes – as soon as she flops at the kitchen table, she lights one, inhales deeply, closes her eyes, and slowly allows smoke to drift out. Maire can smell it infusing her dyed jet black hair. ‘Kids all right, love?’ she asks. ‘Yes, all fine, Mrs Ryan,’ replies Maire, injecting an unfelt breeziness. She sometimes wonders why, in the more than two years she’s now been here, Mrs Ryan has never suggested she call her Bridget. ‘How was Bernadette?’ ‘She’s OK.’ Mrs Ryan takes another gasp. ‘I asked her again about putting in for a transfer to Dublin, but she wouldn’t. Says she’s used to it down there.’ Another puff, followed by a single rich cough. ‘She says there’s talk of some kind of negotiations going on. Maybe some’ll get released.’ ‘That’d be good,’ says Maire. It’s a discussion she doesn’t want to get drawn into. ‘Better go up and catch up with my work.’ ‘Aye, you do that.’ Mrs Ryan looks up at her. ‘Thanks, Maire.’ She goes upstairs, sits at her desk, opens a notebook and the marked page of a book, Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials. It’s by Telford Taylor, an American lawyer who was one of the Nazis’ prosecutors, and was published a year ago. Despite the good reviews, the library hasn’t got a copy, so she’s splashed out and ordered one for herself. She’s been devouring it hungrily but, at this moment, her appetite has gone missing. She peers around her box of a room: narrow single bed, bedside table with just enough room for lamp and alarm clock, school desk and chair, scratched brown chest of drawers, hangers on a rail, a wash basin in the corner. Two photographs sit on the chest, her ma and da getting married, and the McCartneys and Kennedys together by the sea in Portrush. She wonders who could have taken it, as they’re all in the picture. On the back row, Joseph stares at her with an idiot grin on his face. She wonders how he’s faring. At least there’s been nothing of him or his friends in the newspapers. Looking at him only brings that image of the boy’s receding behind. She stands to inspect herself in a small square mirror nailed onto the wall. She peers closely to examine the two spots, one lodged just above her upper right lip, the other low on her chin. She touches them – not ready to pop and nothing she can do before the morning. Her hands move down her body to the growing tyre of flesh around her belly. She knows she’s let herself run to seed. Bad eating, mainly – it’s chips every night at the Ryans’. What’s there been to look good for since she came here? Now she thinks of taking better care of herself. Just in case . . . In case of what? She tells herself to wise up. David Vallely is a nice-looking English boy from another world she’s met and talked to once and knows nothing about. He’s probably a flirt who sees nothing more in her than a coffee mate with a mutual academic interest. She needs to see him that way too and remind herself that she’s here to get a top degree and keep herself to herself. She probably won’t even see him again anyway. Be better not. On the Monday morning, he’s there in the library. Same table, same chair. CHAPTER 6 (#ulink_6b3032e3-a7f9-5f1c-a909-ad8c169a5917) He walks towards her, flicks a smile and leaves the library. A few minutes later, he’s back and drops a note in front of her as he passes. ‘Fancy pizza this evening?’ it reads. She looks up at him with apparent disapproval, turns over the note and writes on the back. She holds it up so he can see the reply from the far end of the table. ‘OK.’ Her end of weekend resolution has lasted the split second of hesitation it takes to scribble two letters. She can’t believe what she’s done. He sticks up a thumb, reads for a few more minutes and leaves again, this time not to return. Her heart seems to thump all day. She’s racked by a jumble of feelings. Guilt, anticipation, dread, excitement – reverting always to guilt. She knows full well Martin would say she’s breaking their deal if she goes out with him. She tries to think back to that conversation two years ago. Martin gave the orders – she stayed silent. Why should her silence mean acquiescence? She’s too smart not to know that’s sophistry. But she’s maintained the isolation for more than two years – there has to come a time when she can relax. What could be more harmless than a posh English boy with whom she’s nothing in common and who knows nothing of her island or where she’s come from? Anyway, she’s already said yes. When they meet up at the pizza place and exchange opening pecks on cheeks, she calms. He’s easygoing, soothing, even nicer to look at close up across the table. She’s struck again by his teeth and feels self-conscious. The gap between her two upper front ones has never much bothered her – doesn’t Madonna have one? – but now she wonders if he minds. And there are the ‘incisors’ the dentist once remarked on – not to mention the uneven bottom row. They were never bad enough to get done on the National Health, and who’d want to waste their own money on teeth? Not that it was ever an option. He truly doesn’t seem to care. Lightly creased in smiles, he contentedly gazes at her eating her pizza slice by slice in her hands, her tongue licking stray strands of melting cheese from her fingers. They share a bottle of Soave – she finds herself drinking faster than he is. ‘How was your weekend?’ she asks. ‘I packed the rucksack and got a bus to Wicklow.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Yeah. Walked up Lugnaquilla. It was great. Fantastic views.’ ‘I love mountains!’ she exclaims. ‘Maybe sometime we should climb one,’ he suggests shyly. ‘Yeah, be great,’ she replies almost under her breath, then buries her eyes in her plate. ‘And you,’ he says after a second or two. ‘How was Battle of Algiers?’ ‘Brilliant.’ He expects her to go on but her eyes stay silently down. ‘Yes, it is,’ he agrees. ‘It sorta manipulates you,’ she says, looking back up with a smile. ‘You know what they’re doing is wrong, but you kinda feel it’s right.’ She feels a tiny thrill at coming up with the judgement out of the blue. ‘Like here?’ he asks. She doesn’t answer and itches to change the subject. ‘So tell me ’bout youse,’ she finally says. ‘Not as much to tell as there should be,’ he replies. ‘Irish father, as it happens—’ ‘Would be with a name like yours,’ she whips in. ‘Though they left a long time ago. The family did OK.’ ‘I can see that.’ He blushes modestly, then casts his most beguiling grin, his eyes twinkling. ‘My mother was English, though. Bit of French blood. She was a good-looking woman.’ She notices the tension. His smile disappears. ‘Yeah, both gone.’ ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘There we are, nothing to be done.’ She thinks of asking how and why, but decides from the sadness in his expression that he doesn’t really want to discuss it. ‘So it’s me alone against the world,’ he continues, proclaiming it like a manifesto. ‘No brothers or sisters?’ she asks. ‘Just me. A lonely orphan in Dublin.’ He reverts to his default mode of self-mocking. She sees him as the standard male who deals with past regrets by avoiding them. Silence follows for a second or two of memory and consolation. He’s chatty enough and reticent only about himself – she understands that’s in a boy’s nature. Above all, he’s a good listener and she finds herself chattering away in all sorts of unintended directions. ‘So what about you?’ he pipes up. ‘Not much to tell either. Not yet rags to riches. My da’s a mechanic, never had a proper academic education.’ He watches her break into a smile of fondness. ‘Mind you, the wee man’s now a self-taught philosopher king.’ Unlike him, she’s not holding back. ‘Ma’s a classroom assistant since my brother and I grew up. Working-class Catholic. They reckon they never had a proper chance so they were damned – well, my da used another word – if it was going to be the same for my brother and me. They pushed me. Scholarships mattered. That’s what got me here.’ ‘And your brother?’ ‘Oh. He’s a clever boy. Committed to the cause. You know.’ She sounds embarrassed. ‘He’s the philosopher windbag. Hot air and purple prose.’ She feels she’s gone too far and tries to row back. He concentrates fiercely on his pizza and eats hungrily. ‘I’d have been the same,’ he says between mouthfuls. ‘Not that he’s ever up to anything, just a whole load of blather. Gets boring after all these years.’ She forces a grin. ‘Thank God I got away.’ ‘I’m glad you did.’ His hand creeps slowly across the table and ends up resting on hers. She lets it linger. She means to pull hers away, but, if she’s failing at that, there’s no way she’ll let him know where she lives. She imagines Mrs Ryan, cigarette hanging from lip, looking down on her through the curtains of the front bedroom. He offers to drop her home, but she declines, giving him a peck on the cheek before setting off down the dimly lit lane. There’s a spring in her step. He’s nice. Really nice. Pity she can’t let it go anywhere. But there’s no reason not to be friends. Imperceptibly, they fall into a routine, controlled by when he happens to appear at the library – lunch breaks together when he’s there, sometimes supper out when she’s ahead of her work and doesn’t have the kids to do. Though she only ever uses work as an excuse for being busy – she’s not going to mention her life as a childminder. Occasionally they see a movie – he loves discussing them as much as she does. Schindler’s List keeps them going for hours – he’s fascinated by the different ways a ‘good’ man can behave in the face of evil. At his suggestion, they go to Indecent Proposal – she feels her cheeks going redder and redder as the story unfolds and Demi Moore undresses. He turns to her, appears to notice despite the darkness, chuckles, pats her on the thigh, then withdraws his hand. She’s impressed by how hard he’s working, and his sympathetic understanding that she needs space and time for her own studies. Sometimes they walk round the city; on cold days he might hold her hands to warm them. They give each other chaste kisses as they part. He offers no hint of sex or love. As these days and early weeks pass, a puzzle begins to trouble her. She’s thrown by how much she’s liking this man – as she now sees him – and how much she wants to spend time with him. He’s amiable, relaxing, interesting. There’s no side to him. He’s also gorgeous – she feasts on him every time she sees him. There’s no avoiding it – she wants him and has tried at times to convey it in her eyes. The puzzle is how slowly they seem to be moving – or, rather, he is. She’s sure he’s attracted to her. She thinks she sees the desire in his eyes – yet he seems content to go on playing it for friendship. Perhaps that’s one reason why she’s grown to like him so much. Over a supper out – he’s not short of money and will never allow her to contribute, which is a relief – she tries a gambit to move it on. ‘It’s great eating out, but sometime I’d like to cook for you myself,’ she begins. ‘That’d be good,’ he says, ‘another of your talents to explore.’ ‘Trouble is,’ she goes on downcast, ‘where I live is girls only and the landlady’s a witch. No men allowed.’ ‘That’s Stone Age.’ He grins. ‘I blame the priests,’ she says. ‘Well never mind, we’ll just have to live on pizza.’ Why doesn’t he take the bait and invite her to his place instead? A nasty thought surfaces. Has he got a girlfriend hidden away somewhere? But on that her instinct is certain: he hasn’t. So what’s stopping him? Is there something she’s missed? God, maybe he’s not even into girls. No, he is. She’s sure of that too. If, in those early days, they’d ended up in a pub, had a few drinks, gone back to where he lives – even checked into a cheap hotel or behind the bushes on a rug for God’s sake, warmed by alcohol – desire would have taken over. That would have suited her after such long abstinence – an escapist fling with a dreamy boy hailing from a different planet, no strings attached. Now it’s gone too far and they’ve spent too much time together for it to be just that. The implications of eventual sex begin to weigh more heavily. Yet, though he always tries to answer everything she asks, she feels she still doesn’t really know this man she’s getting in so deep with. ‘So,’ she asks once, ‘you’ve never told me about your student days.’ ‘They were pretty average,’ he says. ‘Hey, doesn’t matter what they were. I don’t mind.’ He’s silent, even gloomy, then speaks. ‘OK, I confess. I did history at Exeter. Now you’re going to really despise me.’ She laughs out loud, shaking her head at him. ‘You oul fool, I already know you’re a posh boy.’ Titbits like this are frustratingly meagre. Perhaps she has too idealized a view of what a relationship, even just a proper friendship, should be. Isn’t it about not just answering questions but immersing yourself into each other’s life, family, prejudices, experiences, all the pieces that make you the person you are – knowing there’s nothing you can’t share? It nags her that she’s only scraped his surface. ‘You know something,’ she says another time, idly twirling spaghetti on her fork, ‘we spend all this time together and it’s great. But I still feel I dunno anything ’bout you.’ He laughs. ‘What do you want to know? What is there to know? I’m all yours to see.’ He thinks, seeking to justify himself. ‘I’ve always told you anything you’ve asked.’ ‘I know you have. I know you try. But it’s like . . . it’s like you’ve no family. No friends. None I know of, anyway. No past – sometimes what you tell me just feels like lines in a CV. We talk ’bout stuff but we never really talk ’bout you.’ ‘I told you, I’m not very interesting. And I don’t have friends here.’ He pauses. ‘And, hey, I don’t quiz you about you. You said you’d got away. Maybe I’m the same.’ ‘Fair enough,’ she says, ‘can’t argue with that.’ That’s it, and they change the subject, chatting as easily as always. But his face momentarily droops and she realizes she’s struck a nerve. ‘Remember you said you wanted to climb a hill?’ he says a few days later during the lunch break. ‘Yeah?’ She wonders what’s coming. ‘Weekend after next my mate Rob’s coming over. We’re driving to Connemara. We’d like you to come.’ ‘We?’ ‘Yes, we. He’s my oldest friend. I was thinking of what you said.’ She looks puzzled. ‘About knowing about me.’ ‘Oh, right.’ She frowns. ‘Didn’t mean you to take it that literally.’ ‘I didn’t. He was coming anyway. He’s good fun, clever too. A reporter for The Times. I’ll show you his byline. Rob McNeil.’ ‘OK. Sounds great.’ The frown gives way to a beam and then to bleakness. ‘Look, I’d love to but I can’t.’ ‘You can’t!’ ‘I got a commitment: my flatmates are having a gathering.’ ‘Can’t you get out of it?’ he pleads. ‘Just this once. Just for me.’ The beseeching in his eyes alarms her – he’s never exposed himself like that before. Has the moment come? Is this his foot pushing the accelerator? If so, she wants more than ever to be on the ride, though her strength of feeling has made it scarier. Her arrangement with Mrs Ryan is one weekend a month off – and the dates clash. She needs a plan. ‘I was just wondering about something, Mrs Ryan,’ she says as tea that evening is ending. ‘Yes, love,’ she says, looking up from her plate. It’s cheese on toast with beans and chips – the kids are gone, having bolted theirs down and rinsed their plates. ‘I was gonna ask if it might be possible to swap my weekend off this month.’ Mrs Ryan’s eyebrows rise disagreeably. ‘That wouldn’t be very convenient, Maire. You never asked it before.’ ‘I know, it’s just that something’s come up for my studies. Bit short notice but there’s a symposium the weekend after next in Cork – it’s about international law and war crimes.’ ‘Sorry, love, you’ve got me there, what’s that? ‘It’s like . . . a symposium’s like some of the world’s experts on it’ll be gathered there. Lectures and discussion groups. Could help with my degree.’ ‘It’s to do with your degree?’ ‘Yes, Mrs Ryan. They’re laying on a bus for the third-years.’ ‘OK, Maire, I’ll think about it. Maybe Margaret can help out.’ ‘That’d be great, Mrs Ryan, thanks.’ She knows that Margaret, Mrs Ryan’s pregnant younger daughter, won’t be doing anything better – but also won’t want the bother. It’s down to how hard Mrs Ryan wants to push it. Later that evening, she hears Mrs Ryan on the phone. She edges her room door ajar to make out what she’s saying, but whoever’s on the other end of the line seems to be doing most of the talking, only odd phrases wafting up. ‘Yes, that’s right . . . there’s a bus taking them . . . she says it’s good for her degree.’ She guesses Mrs Ryan’s trying to persuade her daughter – not that Margaret would be impressed by helping anyone get a degree. As she’s leaving for the library next morning, Mrs Ryan pops her head out of her bedroom door. Her hairnet’s still in place, along with the cigarette. ‘Before you go, Maire – I had a chat with Margaret. You can go on your weekend for whatever that occasion is you mentioned.’ She’s startled, never believing it would work. ‘Thank you, Mrs Ryan, thanks very much.’ ‘But no partying, OK?’ ‘That’s great, it’s only for work.’ It seems too easy to be true – but what’s to worry about that? She’s off to Connemara with her posh English boy and, no doubt, his posh English friend. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath – eight days to wait. It’s going to happen. CHAPTER 7 (#ulink_676b0ebc-f31f-5ae4-9e26-cc5a08d980f1) Post-election, Friday, 5 May, to Sunday, 7 May On the Friday afternoon Anne-Marie Gallagher had called into Audax Chambers. A ‘Congratulations’ banner hung and they gathered in reception to applaud as she entered. Her timing was fortuitous; the TV was showing the new prime minister, Lionel Buller, leaving Buckingham Palace after ‘kissing hands’ with the monarch. ‘You did it,’ said Kieron Carnegie. ‘You did it, Kieron,’ she replied. ‘Wrong. It’s entirely your achievement. And it doesn’t surprise me one jot.’ They exchanged happy smiles. ‘That was some speech.’ ‘I’m not sure what took hold of me.’ ‘The risk taker that lurks within.’ He leant close to whisper. ‘You may find you get a phone call soon.’ ‘What?’ For once she seemed genuinely puzzled. ‘I’m afraid this may be the one and only time you have to allow me to know something you don’t.’ ‘You’re incorrigible,’ she murmured, turning to mingle. The call came at 8.30 on the Sunday morning, the number showing private. ‘He wants to see me? Yes, of course, name your time.’ She was lying in her bath, soapsuds playing around her toes, incredulity around her eyes. ‘Four-thirty. I’ll look forward to it. Oh, and where do I arrive?’ The instruction was brief. ‘Sure, I’ll remember to smile.’ She dialled Kieron Carnegie’s number. ‘You set me up again!’ ‘Not at all,’ he protested. ‘They called me out of the blue.’ ‘Checking me out?’ ‘Just one of Lionel’s boys. He was only asking if there was anything they needed to know.’ ‘And?’ ‘I said you were the most remarkable young woman I had ever met. It seemed to satisfy him.’ He paused. ‘Good luck. Don’t worry if he doesn’t smile, he left his sense of humour behind in the womb.’ At 4.28 p.m., conveying herself elegantly on black, lightly heeled boots, she was ushered through the gates of Downing Street by the duty policemen. ‘Good afternoon, Ms Gallagher.’ Their recognition shot a dart of pleasure through her. For the cameras parked outside Number 10 she affected a shy smile. ‘What’s he giving you, Anne-Marie?’ came a shout. She raised an eyebrow at the offender. At 4.30 p.m. the black front door opened. A young man with floppy hair, a boy, it seemed to her, at the heart of government, shook her hand and addressed her with a silky maturity. ‘Welcome, Ms Gallagher. Philip Wells, private secretary to the Prime Minister. You’re the last by some way and he’s retreated to the flat. If you could bear to follow me up . . .’ Lionel Buller was dressed in charcoal grey suit trousers and a white shirt, top button open. In the corner, she saw a jacket and tie folded carefully over a chair. ‘Anne-Marie, good to see you.’ ‘And you, too, Prime Minister,’ she replied. Without a handshake or embrace, he gestured her to sit down. Somehow she had expected him to forgo formality and ask her to call him by his first name. A second man looked on, similarly dressed but with tie in place, topped by retreating sandy hair whitening at the edges. ‘You know Rob McNeil,’ stated Buller. It was an assumption that neither of them challenged. ‘Good to meet,’ said McNeil stretching out his hand. ‘Yes, indeed,’ she replied, shaking it. She felt not just shock but a punch of dread. Over the years, she had occasionally noticed his rising profile and ultimate appointment as political editor. As she herself grew in her smaller world, there was little danger of their careers crossing paths – until her selection as a parliamentary candidate. Even then a little known, would-be MP was too small fry for a national political editor. Now, without any rehearsal, she was pitched together with him. She told herself to stay calm and show nothing – there was no reason, in such a different context, why he should suddenly start thinking about a weekend twenty-four years ago. ‘I’ll be announcing Rob’s appointment tomorrow morning as the new Number 10 press secretary,’ said Buller. ‘Unexpected no doubt, but, given he’s done six years as The Times’ political editor, we might at least keep that paper onside.’ He grimaced. Hooded brown eyes, snuggling beneath heavy brown brows, bore in on her. ‘Well, congratulations.’ ‘Thank you.’ ‘It was a seat we had to win.’ He looked down at an untidy cluster of papers on the glass table in front of him. ‘I happened to arrive at Festival Hall just in time for your declaration. A turning point.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I watched your speech.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘I watched it again yesterday. We recorded the night.’ He paused. ‘It was remarkable.’ ‘Oh, good.’ She realized she was scuffing her hands together and told herself to stop. ‘Is there anything I ought to know . . .?’ His voice tailed off. She suspected he had been told to ask the question. ‘No. I live to work. That’s it.’ ‘Curiously enough,’ he resumed, as if he had not heard her, ‘I tend to believe the Security Service when it tells me it does not vet ministers.’ God, she thought, what’s this leading to? ‘Unless, of course, they think someone’s going to blow up Parliament.’ He manufactured a twisting of the face, intended to be a smile. ‘I’ll try to resist that temptation,’ she said. The face untwisted itself. ‘I want this to be a moral government.’ He blurted it out, his eyes coming alive, shining through the hoods. ‘We said that once before and it didn’t work out. This time it will.’ ‘That’s why I joined the party,’ she said. ‘Why I stood for parliament.’ ‘There are obstacles.’ Again he did not speak directly to her. ‘Not just from outside, but within the party too.’ He sprang up from his seat, walked to the window and peered down at the Downing Street garden below. ‘Steve Whalley.’ He stopped. She resisted any temptation to nudge him. ‘Stalwart of the party. I have asked him to be Home Secretary.’ She nodded, maintaining a strategy of silence. ‘One of my strongest backers for the leadership. He’s a traditionalist. Needs support from a strong, modern voice. Someone with an unblemished record in human rights.’ He walked back, sat down and fiddled again with the papers. Was it an act that allowed him to judge her reactions – or was he hamstrung by a social gaucheness? Especially, perhaps, with women. ‘The Home Office, as presently structured – a structure I see no need to change – has three Ministers of State. One oversees crime prevention, the second policing and criminal justice, the third security and immigration.’ He paused. ‘You know all this.’ ‘Yes,’ replied Anne-Marie, breaking her silence, ‘I’ve had dealings on the other side of the table with the outgoing Minister for Security and Immigration.’ ‘Of course.’ A hint of a smile appeared and instantly dissolved. ‘It’s a difficult portfolio. Asylum, extradition, national security.’ He paused. ‘The surveillance which makes that possible.’ ‘All areas of great professional interest to me,’ said Anne-Marie. ‘And now political interest too.’ ‘We should not always be a predictable government. I’m determined that now, right at the beginning, we show that we can be bold.’ He looked up and, for the first time, fully locked eyes with her. ‘I would like to offer you a post in my government as Home Office Minister of State for Security and Immigration.’ ‘Jesus.’ Her language relapsed, the astonishment was so real. A welling of emotion caught her unawares. She swatted it like a fly. ‘I don’t know what to say.’ McNeil caught her eye. ‘I think what the Prime Minister would like you to say is whether or not you accept his offer,’ he said gently. She had that odd sensation – not for the first time in her life – of her words emerging ahead of her thoughts. ‘Yes, of course.’ She did not hesitate. ‘Of course I do.’ ‘Good,’ stated Buller without emotion. ‘I have no experience in government.’ ‘Few of us do. But you have expertise.’ ‘What about Steve Whalley?’ she found herself asking. ‘Don’t worry about Steve,’ replied Buller, ‘you’ll find a way.’ She sensed the conversation was over and stood up. This time, unlike at her arrival, he stretched out a hand and she shook it. ‘Any problems you ever have, just ring Rob. He’ll be my eyes and ears.’ ‘I’ll see you out,’ McNeil said with a nod. He waved her ahead of him and followed her down a modest corridor lined with nondescript watercolours before emerging at the grand staircase. Anne-Marie considered the scions of the British establishment looking down on her. The blessed Theresa, fleshy Cameron, glowering Brown, Blair, the grinner in anguish by his end, Major, the nothing man, Thatcher, the femme fatale who had haunted Anne-Marie’s teenage years. ‘History’s proving kind to her, isn’t it?’ remarked McNeil, scrutinizing Anne-Marie’s eyes trained on the famous face and bouffant hair. She stopped to look more closely at the portrait. The journey she had made suddenly seemed so improbable. To think that the idea of Thatcher as the mortal enemy was one of the certainties of her political upbringing. And yet here she was stepping down the very staircase this iconic foe had once graced. Of course, it was not only she: the one-time leaders of the IRA now too were politicians, collaborating with a British state they had wanted to destroy. ‘In that case, history is being somewhat premature,’ Anne-Marie replied tartly. ‘Perhaps that depends on when history begins,’ Rob continued. She turned sharply, again feeling the dread. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Only musing.’ He smiled. ‘Just thinking of how quickly they can come and go.’ She thought she detected admiration in his eyes. Perhaps it was nothing more. She turned away and accelerated down the stairs. McNeil skipped down them behind her. As they crossed the chequerboard floor and approached the front door, she stopped again. He caught up and she inspected him more thoroughly. The furrowed seriousness was even more apparent, enhanced by the widow’s peak of his pale hair. ‘I should have congratulated you in there,’ she said. ‘It’s a great achievement. A huge job too – the voice of government.’ He smiled again. ‘That’s rather an intimidating way of putting it. I meant to congratulate you too. Yours was an important victory.’ He paused, looking around. ‘And now all this.’ ‘I know. Doesn’t quite feel real, does it?’ She spun on her heel, nodded to the policeman at the door, and left to the clicking of photographers and yells of reporters. Despite her trembling knees, she paused, smiled, waved, took a deep breath and strode off up Downing Street. She had anticipated the return walk would be a celebration, wordless though with a smile for the camera. Now, the smile fought the thumping in her head. Coming face to face with McNeil had brought the past abruptly to unwelcome life. She sensed walking invisibly beside her the three men – one brother, two lovers – who had truly mattered in her life. All long gone, swept away from her, disappeared. Who knew where? Or how? Were they now to be the ghosts at her banquet? She crossed the Embankment, red flashes of passing buses appearing abstract, almost unreal. What if I stepped out now? She caught herself, reflecting on the idiocy of the thought, worse still the failure of nerve, and headed for the pedestrian lights. Over Westminster Bridge she increased her pace, wanting to run, but knew she must not. There could be more photographers, followers, pursuers even. She found herself watching out for men in hats. Her pulse raced. Calm it down, slow deep breaths, smile, admire the reflections of the river, enjoy the rainbow colours of tourist groups. Big Ben struck five – she could only have been in there twenty minutes; it felt not just an eternity but a distant one. She reached the other side of the river, crossed and flitted down the steps onto the Thames pathway. To the right the Houses of Parliament, a mile or so ahead the boorish shape of MI6’s grandiose contribution to the London skyline and James Bond films. The monstrous palace of games. The South Bank unshackled her. She took off her heels and, despite the constrictions of her skirt, broke into a jog. As the last neo-Gothic vestiges of the Houses of Parliament slipped from her eyeline, the building rhythm of her movement slowed her heartbeat. A sense of mission seeped down and reinforced her. CHAPTER 8 (#ulink_a3329f21-5f51-5d78-ad4c-2a7db982f377) November 1993 She’s told Mrs Ryan the bus to Cork leaves from BusAras at 8 a.m. To avoid seeing her or the kids, Maire creeps out of the house with her rucksack an hour earlier. Night is clearing to a biting crispness as the sun breaks through the late November fog. The bus station’s less than a mile away but she takes a detour via Talbot Street, instinctively glancing back for prowling eyes. She tells herself not to be an idiot and heads for the junction with O’Connell Street. They’re picking her up outside the General Post Office – whatever the historical connections, at least they can’t miss it. Because of the early departure she’s half an hour to kill and finds a side street café to warm her hands over a cup of tea. At 8 a.m. a sporty-looking car draws up and toots its horn. David leaps out and helps her into the cramped back. ‘Sorry,’ he says, ‘you’re the only one who’ll fit there.’ As they pull away, he does the introductions. ‘Maire, this is my friend, Rob.’ The driver takes one hand off the steering wheel, turns and offers it. ‘Hi, Maire.’ He doesn’t sound quite as posh as David but the nicely cut and brushed straw-coloured hair and green jacket suggest wealth. She shakes the hand. ‘Hello, Rob.’ They head west, Rob driving too fast and David urging him to go faster. David swivels. ‘His choice of car, not mine.’ Rob grimaces. The space in the back is so tight that even she, with her short legs, is forced to put them across the seat. She can’t help her face being close to the hair falling on his collar and has an urge to blow on the soft skin of his nape. In the rear-view mirror, she sees Rob now smiling. He turns to David, ‘Well, you said she was a looker.’ She glows. She realizes she’s never felt so well – her skin feels fresh, even the spots have gone. She feels the tyre of flesh around her waist – still there but tauter. Is that what love can do? She bats away the question. This can never be about that. They drive past Maynooth, through Kinnegad and into Athlone, where David suggests stopping to inspect the dull, grey stone fortress by the river. ‘His culture only extends to wars and battles,’ Rob says as they stare up at it. ‘He doesn’t talk ’bout that with me,’ says Maire. ‘That’s because you’re broadening my horizons,’ says David. ‘About bloody time someone did,’ says Rob, winking at Maire. ‘Has he bored you with his rugby stories yet?’ ‘Didn’t even know he played.’ ‘Ah, the many talents . . .’ He stops himself, breaks into a chuckle and stretches out his left hand to slap David on the shoulder. ‘The many talents of the amazing Mr David Vallely.’ Then it’s on to Galway city for a bacon sandwich and, in deference to their notions of Irishness, pints of Guinness around a rickety wooden pub table. ‘So,’ Maire says, turning to Rob, ‘tell us more about the secret life of David Vallely.’ ‘Now you’re asking.’ ‘I wanna know. He never talks ’bout himself.’ ‘What can I say?’ Rob reflects, looking fondly at his friend. ‘I’ve known this comedian for, let me see, twelve years off and on. It’s not been easy for him . . .’ He leaves the thought unspoken. ‘Did you know his ma and da?’ she interrupts, getting it. ‘Not his father, he died a while ago. His mother was lovely.’ He allows a silence to hang. ‘I’m sorry,’ says Maire, turning to David, who’s looking away, out of the pub window. ‘Anyway,’ resumes Rob, ‘in all that time, we’ve hardly had a cross word. There’ve been periods when he’s been travelling – he’s a bit of a hobo – but we just take up where we left off. Nothing changes.’ ‘That’s great,’ says Maire. ‘Great to have a friend like that.’ Her voice tails off and she too stares out of the window, feeling her own aloneness. ‘Anyway’ – Rob’s eyes are trained on David – ‘after all that wandering, he looks settled now, doesn’t he?’ ‘I am, mate,’ agrees David, ‘I really think I am.’ ‘And about bloody time too!’ exclaims Rob, puncturing the moment of gravity. They pass another castle, the gaunt ruins of Menlo, which David doesn’t inflict on them, and finally, in the early afternoon, the mountains of Connemara loom beneath a lowering late autumn sky. ‘I need to climb a hill,’ exclaims David. ‘You on, Maire? You said you’d like to.’ ‘Yeah, I’m on.’ She glances at him, throwing a challenge, the car pulls up and he helps her climb out over the front seat. ‘Race you to the top,’ she says. ‘Loser pays all.’ ‘OK, you’re on.’ He pinches her and grins. Before the two men can move, she’s running through a springy field, splattering mud over her jeans. She finds a path along a stone wall and begins to climb, sheep watching her haste with incredulity. She hears them chasing her. ‘We’re coming to get you,’ yells David. She forges on, flicking looks behind as they close. She reaches a gate, hops neatly over it and feels drops of rain on her hair. She looks up and the skies are blackening. She stops, closes her eyes, opens her arms, and feels a gush of water burst over her face. At the same moment, he’s behind her, throwing his arms around the fold of her waist, his body tight and hard against hers, breathing heavily. ‘OK,’ he says, ‘you win. Now let’s get the hell back to the car before we drown.’ He’s never held her like that before. They reach the modest, pebble-dashed guesthouse in Clifden as dusk falls. A swirling wind beats rain against windows and the sea against rocks. The landlady recoils at the drenched, shivering arrivals. ‘Hot showers for you, then.’ She peers down at her reservations book. ‘A single and a double?’ There’s a question mark in her voice. ‘The single’s for me,’ says Maire. A couple of hours later the rain subsides and they find a pub serving up easygoing food, a crackling wood fire, and a live band. It’s an out-of-season Saturday evening but the place is crowded with locals of all shapes and ages: wizened old peat cutters wearing black jackets matching the darkness of their stout mingling with ruddy-faced country girls displaying brightly coloured skirts and muscled calves. With speakers turned up to deafen, the band strike up a jig. Maire motions David to the dance floor. She tries to set steps for him to follow but it’s a lost cause as he narrowly avoids her toes and grasps her instead in close embrace. The music ends and he leads her back to their table. ‘He sings better than he dances,’ Rob tells Maire with a curiously dull edge. He sees her notice and perks himself up. ‘Go on, get him on stage.’ ‘It’s gotta be an improvement,’ she says. ‘His dancing’s shite.’ David glares at Rob but is too late to stop her skipping over to the band leader. She points to David and heads back towards the two friends. She sees them break off their conversation, still glaring at each other. The edge between them is odd – she assumes David’s embarrassed by his friend. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ announces the lead singer, ‘we’re joined on vocals by David from Dublin.’ David walks over and whispers in his ear. ‘And he’ll be singing for us that beautiful folk song which originated the other side of the Irish sea but we’ve adopted as our own. You all know it – “The Nightingale”.’ The fiddle and guitar play their opening bars. David, gazing into Maire’s eyes, lifts the microphone to his lips and softly and shyly sings. As I went a walking one morning in May I met a young couple so far did we stray And one was a young maid so sweet and so fair And the other was a soldier and a brave Grenadier With his free hand, David beckons the audience to join in the chorus. And they kissed so sweet and comforting as they clung to each other They went arm-in-arm along the road like sister and brother They were arming along the road till they came to a stream And they both sat down together, love, to hear the nightingale sing. The song ends, the audience clap and cheer. David, now confident and enjoying the moment, bows. Maire has a new sensation – she feels proud of him. ‘You could almost pass for an Irishman,’ she says. ‘I love the music,’ David replies. ‘Listen to it endlessly.’ ‘And now you’re in the country itself.’ She turns to his friend. ‘Do you know Ireland, Rob?’ ‘A bit,’ he says. ‘I did a six-month stint in the North for the paper.’ ‘Oh,’ she says, her voice rising an octave. ‘When was that?’ ‘Not so long ago, summer of ’91.’ ‘So, pretty quiet.’ ‘Yeah, not much,’ he says casually. ‘Only real nasty was the murder of the Special Branch guy, poor bastard.’ She’s motionless. ‘I read about it. I’d left by then, thank God.’ The memory kills conversation and their eyes turn back to the band. Later, Rob withdraws to the guesthouse and Maire and David find themselves walking along the harbour front. The clouds have cleared and he puts his arm round her. She doesn’t sink into him. ‘You’re shivering,’ he says. ‘It’s not exactly warm,’ she says with a touch of frost. ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘Nothing’s wrong.’ ‘I can tell,’ he says. ‘Was it the pub? Or Rob?’ She pipes up. ‘Well, I did wonder why you looked as if you wanted to punch each other.’ He laughs. ‘It was nothing. Though I might have preferred him not to act the impresario.’ ‘I though it might be that.’ ‘There’s something else, isn’t there?’ he insists. ‘No, not really.’ She puts her arm round his waist. ‘Just the fears and hopes of life.’ He doesn’t pursue it, instead rubbing her warm against the piercing cold. Out to the west, away from the lights of land, the moon casts onto the blackness of the sea a shimmering pathway of brilliance, which seems to stretch to infinity. In the distance, the silhouette of the Twelve Bens mountains draws a curtain against the island and continent that lie behind them. She arches her neck to look up at him. He leans over her and they kiss fully and deeply for the first time. ‘Here and now, in this magical place, it’s as if we’re . . .’ He pauses, breaking away, trying to find the word. ‘As if we’re invulnerable. Untouchable. There’s no need for fears.’ She pulls herself to, breaks away and gives him a gentle slap. ‘That’s unlike you,’ she says, cheeriness restored. ‘I guess I’ll have to get used to the singing poet.’ She flings her arms round his neck and plants a kiss on his mouth. ‘Christ, it’s bloody freezing,’ she exclaims. ‘What the hell are you doing keeping me out so late, Mr Vallely?’ Arms back round each other’s waist, they walk briskly to the guesthouse. Despite the length of his stride, her thickset legs spring along beside him. They open the door. She puts her hand over his mouth and quietly hushes him. They creep up the stairs, trying not to giggle as floorboards creak. On the landing at the top, he makes to leave her and go to his room. She looks into his eyes, takes him by the hand and leads him to hers, all the time keeping him silent. Inside her room, he begins to speak, ‘Maire, are you sure—’ She puts her forefinger over his lips, then inside his mouth and strokes his milky teeth with it. He licks the finger and kisses it. She breaks away, takes off her coat and folds it over a chair. Then her shoes and jeans. She pulls her sweater over her head, causing her long tresses of hair to lift and then fall back in floating descent. She unbuttons her shirt and lays it over the sweater, and unclips her bra and lets it slip to the ground. She puts her hands through her hair and brings strands to her front. She stands facing him and beckons. ‘Too much blubber,’ she says shyly. ‘No,’ he answers, ‘the more of you, the better.’ ‘Now you.’ He undresses and she steps back to lie on the bed and pull him over her. They make love three times until it lasts long enough for her to share in the full pleasure of it. ‘I’m sorry,’ he keeps saying, ‘I’ve been wanting it too much. Storing it up.’ She shushes him, saying it doesn’t matter. At the end, after they’ve been lying sleepily in peace for a few minutes, she props herself with a jolt on an elbow and looks over him. ‘If you wanted it that much, what took you so long?’ He opens his resting eyes. ‘I wasn’t sure. You know, you might have disapproved. Not liked me for it. Attitudes are different here. Like the rules in your flat.’ She chuckles. ‘Christ, I was glad to get rid of that hang-up.’ His eyes widen. She continues more softly. ‘But it’s been a while since.’ She pauses. ‘You can’t have hearts breaking and get a first at the same time.’ ‘You’re clever enough to have anything you want,’ he says. The sleep that seemed ready to overwhelm them has turned elusive. ‘I wanna tell you something,’ she says. ‘There’s nothing you have to tell me – you are as you come.’ ‘No, it’s about the flat. I somehow couldn’t tell you straight.’ ‘What couldn’t you tell me?’ ‘I lodge with a woman who’s got three grandchildren living with her. Her daughter’s in prison, the father’s no good. Part of my rent is to look after the kids. That’s why I could never invite you.’ He doesn’t seem offended or even taken aback – instead he puts his arms around her and pulls her close. ‘I’m glad you told me,’ he whispers. ‘It’s great not to have secrets from each other.’ He sits up and beams. ‘Hey, perhaps I’m allowed to ask you back to my place now!’ She sits up too, smartly pushes him back down, lies on top and begins to touch him again. ‘I thought you’d never ask.’ The only sourness in this unmatchable moment is the mental effort to dismiss the exchange in the pub. Part of her wants to tell him everything, even why she first went to Mrs Ryan. But she knows that can never be. CHAPTER 9 (#ulink_62fadde4-e757-56cd-8d15-19e57e902063) On the Monday morning, he’s not in the library. She’d never asked, just assumed he would be. Her concentration keeps wavering as she imagines him walking through the door. He doesn’t. Tuesday morning he’s not there either. She has a premonition of something wrong. Just before the lunch break, he arrives with a grin. ‘I thought you’d be here yesterday,’ she says on the way out. She didn’t mean to – it just comes out. ‘Hey,’ he says, putting his arm round her. She doesn’t pursue it and they head to the sandwich bar. It’s turned cold, grey winter and they eat inside. ‘I’m really glad you told me about the kids,’ he says. ‘I know not to ask too much of you.’ She wonders if this is some kind of explanation for the day before. ‘I’d like to spend more time—’ she begins. ‘Me too,’ he interrupts. They munch silently for a few seconds. He looks up, a glint in the eye. ‘We could sometimes work from my flat in the afternoon.’ ‘Work?’ ‘Sure,’ he says, ‘why not?’ She knows he’s deceiving himself as much as she is. ‘OK, maybe day after tomorrow?’ she suggests. He’s skipped a day, so she can too. ‘Done.’ He stretches out his hand – she shakes both it and her head. He doesn’t arrive at the library till mid-morning, takes down a bound volume, buries himself in it for an hour and a half, closes it, and walks behind her, brushing her neck with the back of a hand, to replace it. She follows him out. ‘I bought a car,’ he announces. ‘A car!’ He grins inanely. ‘Let’s pick up a sandwich and go.’ ‘OK.’ He says he’s parked the other side of St Stephen’s Green so, lunch in bags, they cut through the bared winter trees, his arm around her shoulder reinforcing the warmth of her coat. Suddenly she feels him flinch. He jerks to a stop, whisks her under some branches, pulls his hood over his head and buries himself in a hug with her. She’s too surprised to resist, then tries to pull away. ‘What the—’ she begins, but he puts his forefinger over her mouth to silence her. He has a quick glance behind, repeats the signal with a finger over his own lips and hides himself within her again. A minute passes, he breaks away and they resume the walk. ‘What the fuck was that all about?’ ‘I thought I saw a ghost,’ he says. ‘Well sort of.’ She can see he’s thinking it out. ‘Actually, it looked like a girl I once knew. Had no idea she could be here. It would have been awkward.’ ‘Awkward?’ ‘Yeah, it sort of ended messily.’ His eyes drop to the ground. ‘Probably my fault.’ He says it to mean anything but. ‘It was a while ago. Hey, I’m sorry.’ ‘What’s her name?’ she asks. A beat. ‘Her name?’ ‘Yeah, her name.’ ‘If you really want to know, she’s called Susan. It just could have been really difficult,’ he repeats. ‘She was upset.’ Another beat. ‘So was I.’ ‘Exactly how long ago?’ she asks. ‘Couple of years,’ he replies briskly. He’s more confident now. ‘Oh, well, guess it happens,’ she says. ‘Weird, though, she turns up here.’ ‘Yeah, I know. I mean I didn’t know. It’s nothing, just coincidence.’ She doesn’t push but it’s a knife to her heart. She berates herself for letting it get to her – of course he’s had other girls. How could a boy like him not have? They reach a bright-red hatchback car. ‘What do you think?’ he asks. ‘It’s flashy,’ she says without enthusiasm. She tries not to go on thinking about what happened. ‘It’s an RS turbo, not just some crap Fiesta,’ he explains. ‘After last weekend, I thought we could hit the road some more.’ ‘That’d be good,’ she says, ‘if I can ever get away again.’ She detects his deflation. He wants the car to be for the two of them but the incident in the park has soured the surprise. They draw up in a broad avenue of well-kept Victorian villas. He opens the door of his first-floor flat and ushers her in ahead of him and through to the sitting room. ‘Wow, it’s big,’ she says. ‘I’m lucky,’ he replied. ‘I inherited a bit of money. Though I guess that wasn’t lucky really.’ A cloud passes over his face. She suddenly feels for him, gives him a hug and a kiss, and pulls back to look around. One wall is a tableau of portrait posters. Martin Luther King, Lawrence of Arabia, Muhammad Ali, Karl Marx, Bobby Sands set alongside Jesus Christ, Ayrton Senna holding the 1991 World Championship trophy. ‘Friends of yours?’ she asks him. ‘Ha-ha, funny girl,’ he replies, restoring the big grin and giving her a deep kiss. ‘All right,’ she says when they ease apart, ‘why them?’ ‘All men who changed the world.’ His eyes range over them before settling on Senna. ‘And he’s just brilliant. He’ll be number one again next year for sure.’ ‘Can’t say it’s my scene.’ ‘You’ll love it when I get you close up to the noise.’ She ranges towards a small round table with a handful of framed photographs. He hovers over her as she picks them up one by one. Colour snapshots of a good-looking young couple by the sea and among hippy-dressed crowds at a festival. ‘Mum and Dad,’ he says, ‘Isle of Wight 1969. When Dylan came over.’ ‘They look too straight for that.’ ‘Some people went for the music. The Who, Moody Blues, quite a line-up.’ She replaces it and picks up David himself on graduation day wearing black gown and cap. ‘You haven’t changed much,’ she says. ‘Christ, it wasn’t that long ago,’ he protests. ‘What about your year?’ she asks. ‘By the time they got round to the group photos I was going stir crazy,’ he answers. ‘Mainly a bunch of twats, anyway.’ She works something out. ‘Is that why you’re living out here, then? Among the posh?’ ‘If you mean did I have enough of squawking undergraduates, the answer’s yes. I don’t like the crowd. Never did, really. I suppose I’m a bit of a loner.’ He checks her expression. ‘Sorry, is that sad?’ ‘Not at all,’ she replies. ‘I’m the same.’ She puts the photo down. ‘So, better get to work.’ ‘I’ve got a better idea,’ he says, wrapping his arms around her front. She leans her head back into his neck and sighs. Their lovemaking is sublime in a way she’d never imagined possible. An hour later, as they’re spread peacefully in his bed, he stretches out a hand to the drawer of a bedside table and pulls out a photograph lying flat inside it. He places it face down on his chest and turns to her. ‘Since we first met, I always wanted to tell you something,’ he says, ‘but I was scared to.’ She has her back to him and rolls alertly round. ‘Whaddya mean?’ She can’t hide her alarm. ‘It’s OK,’ he says, ‘it’s just that when you told me about you having to look after the kids, I knew we couldn’t have secrets between us. We want to know everything about each other, don’t we?’ ‘Of course.’ He raises the photograph and holds it out in front of them. A smiling young man in uniform stands beside a bride in a white dress holding a bouquet of roses. Behind them stretch two rows of four men, also in uniform, holding up their swords angled at forty-five degrees to a summer sky. A church porch is just visible, traces of unlit faces in the shadows waiting to emerge. The newly married couple are the same couple, though less windswept, as at the Isle of Wight festival. She peers at it without speaking, trying to understand. ‘1967,’ he says. ‘Your mum and dad,’ she says. ‘I don’t get it.’ ‘It’s their wedding guard of honour. My dad was a soldier.’ A hushed pause, then the low growl of a passing motorbike reverberates through the front bay window to the bedroom at the back. ‘A British soldier.’ ‘Jesus.’ ‘I’m sorry. It’s not what you’d have wanted.’ Silence. ‘It’s not what I’d have ever wanted, either.’ ‘Whaddya mean?’ ‘I feel pride in him but not in the institution. The one thing I never inherited from him is a love of the British Army.’ ‘Did you tell him that?’ ‘No, I realized it too late. It’s probably for the best.’ ‘What happened to him?’ ‘He died in the Falklands. Tumbledown. 1982. When I was thirteen.’ A tear forms in a glistening brown eye and rolls slowly down. She moves close and licks it off his cheek. ‘I’m sorry.’ He breaks away and sits up. ‘It was a shit war over a piece of fucking rock. Dying for the greater glory of Margaret Thatcher.’ ‘You could say the same for Bobby Sands,’ she says. Her remark electrifies him – she has never before even hinted at the troubled history of her island and instantly wishes she hadn’t. ‘You mean they’ve something in common,’ he suggests eagerly. ‘I dunno what I mean,’ she says. ‘It’s kinda confusing.’ ‘That’s why I was scared to tell you. But we’re here together now. So I had to.’ He waits while she processes the information. ‘It’s good you told me,’ she finally says. ‘But never tell it to anyone where I come from.’ She throws off the sheet. ‘Gotta do some work now.’ She needs more time. An hour later, sitting at his desk in the front room while he reads in an armchair, she turns and casts him a frown. ‘What ’bout your mum?’ ‘My mum?’ ‘Yeah, you never told me ’bout her.’ ‘I think she never got over it.’ ‘That doesn’t kill you.’ ‘No. But ovarian cancer does.’ He states it brutally. ‘Shit, I’m sorry,’ she says. She gets up, gently places herself on top of him in the armchair and embraces him. They stay locked together till finally his lips pluck her ear lobe. Intertwined by shared shocks and confidences, they find a rhythm in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Two or three afternoons each week in his flat, maybe a weekend day when she is free. She never stays overnight and, when he drops her off, she never lets his car enter the immediate neighbourhood, let alone her street. ‘Whaddya doing for Christmas?’ she asks one afternoon as he’s driving her back. ‘I spend it with Rob and his family,’ he replies. ‘It’s like they’ve adopted me.’ ‘Bet it’s a big country house.’ ‘How did you ever guess?’ She inspects his profile, the crease of a grin stretching his left cheek. ‘And you?’ he asks, keeping his eyes on the road. ‘I’ll go up and see Ma and Da. Couple of nights, three maybe, no more. The city gives me the creeps these days but I can’t leave them on their own.’ ‘What about your brother?’ he asks. ‘He’ll look in as it suits him.’ She sounds as frosty as the December day. He draws up short of Sheriff Street. ‘I’ll be away to Mrs Ryan’s mansion, then,’ she says, hopping on to the pavement and striding off as fast as her legs will carry her. She gets the return bus to Dublin the day after Boxing Day. He’s not said when he’ll be back but she knows by now he doesn’t like to be tied down by dates. She assumes it will be at least another day or two, maybe not till after New Year. Two p.m. she arrives at Central Bus Station. He’s there, waiting. ‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ She doesn’t know whether to smile or frown – it’s too unexpected. ‘I came back early. Wanted to see you.’ She examines him, touching his unshaven face. ‘Look at you. Did you join the down-and-outs?’ ‘I’ll explain.’ ‘I dunno what you’re expecting. I gotta get back to Mrs Ryan.’ ‘Spend the afternoon with me,’ he pleads. ‘It’s Christmas. She’ll have loads of people to help. You could phone her.’ ‘Where from?’ ‘There’ll be phone boxes here. I’ve got change. Tell her the bus has broken down.’ ‘Christ, you have all the answers, don’t you?’ He grins sheepishly and she rolls her eyes. ‘You look like a tramp and smell like one, too, but you’re still a handsome bastard.’ He broadens the smile. ‘OK, let’s find a phone box,’ she says with a sigh. Snug in bed in the lazy late afternoon, he suddenly sits up and looks down on her. ‘I understood something this Christmas,’ he begins. ‘Oh?’ She is sleepily relaxed. ‘When you’ve had no family for too long, you forget what you’re missing.’ He strokes her upper lip with his forefinger. ‘So what I understood is that I want to be part of you, Maire. Part of where you belong. Part of who you are.’ ‘Whadda you mean?’ she asks, shifting uneasily beneath him and propping on an elbow. ‘You’ve become my touchstone. I lie here with you and define myself against you. This, here, now, is my world.’ ‘What about your friends? And Rob’s family. You said they’d adopted you.’ ‘Yes. But that’s just an illusion. Escapist wishful thinking.’ He lies silently, as if wrestling with some great dilemma that is crushing him. ‘I want you to take me to meet your family.’ She jerks up to sit ramrod straight beside him. ‘David, they’re a world apart.’ ‘I know that. But if they are, so must we be. And we’re not, are we?’ She wants to turn away from the imploring in his eyes and the timbre of his voice but she’s frozen in the enormity of the moment. He allows her time. ‘No, we’re not,’ she at last agrees. ‘In that case, there can’t be borders between us.’ ‘It’s not that easy.’ ‘Nothing in life that’s good ever is.’ She has no response. ‘I love you, Maire,’ he whispers. She stays silent, burning with an overwhelming tenderness for him. She wants to say the word back but can’t bring herself to let it out. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/simon-berthon/a-secret-worth-killing-for/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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